Shridhar Venkat, CEO of Akshaya Patra said his organisation has been providing relief by serving freshly cooked meals and distributing grocery kits in 18 states and two union territories.
In an interview with Apresh Mishra, he talks about Covid-19 relief efforts and solutions for urban poor. Excerpts:
Please tell us about Akshaya Patra’s COVID-19 efforts
As the implementing partner of the Government of India’s Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, The Akshaya Patra Foundation serves over 1.8 million children across 12 states and two union territories. Consequently, we have builta network of kitchens and dedicated it to the welfare of communities.This kitchen network and ourpartnerships enable us to support the Government’s disaster relief efforts through food assistance. We have leveraged our infrastructure and partnerships time and again for relief efforts.
Among the worst affected from COVID-19 outbreak were vulnerable communities such as daily wage earners, migrant labourers, etc. With the support of our corporate partners and donors, Akshaya Patra has been providing relief to these communities by serving freshly cooked meals and distributing grocery kits. We have been coordinating with the local administration to identify areas that need urgent care and ensuring that the affected people receive food in these difficult times.
Since March 25, we have cumulatively served our 75million meals across 18 states and two union territories. These include over 42million meals that were cooked at our kitchens and nearly 7.7 lakh food relief kits (accounting for more than 32million meals) that were distributed through our network over the last four months.
Geographical reach of the Foundation?
We have been working with the Union Government, State Governments, UT Administrations and civic authorities to undertake relief feeding in 18 states and two union territories across India. In Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR), Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh, we have been leveraging our existing kitchens to prepare and serve freshly cooked meals through centres assigned by the administration. Simultaneously, we have been distributingfood relief kits in these states as well as in Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.
Mid /long term solutions to COVID-19 or immediate relief- What should corporates focus?
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, inequalities have increased. Many people have lost livelihood opportunities.More people are now vulnerable toacute hunger due to reduced access to adequate food. Marginalised communities such as daily wage earners, migrant labourers, small-holding farmers, and workers of unorganised sectors are at high risk and fighting to survive the economic and health-related challenges of this pandemic.
Considering the seriousness of the situation, a targeted approach is needed to address these challenges.Adequacy, frequency and continuity are the three aspects that are needed in our relief efforts. Value and impact will be created only when these aspects are maintained.We need to keep in mind that partnerships are key to the success of all our efforts during the pandemic and more importantly, post-COVID. In this situation, the corporate sectorcan support the Government, civil societies and communities respond in a way that builds a stronger future and resilience system.
Several corporate organisations have supported Akshaya Patra’s feeding endeavours by going beyond donating fundstoshare knowledge and technology to enhance the impact of these endeavours. Such use of technology to bridge the gap between people and systems and schemes will be of immense help in the post-COVID world.
It is also worth noting that children, in particular, are in a precarious situation due to this pandemic. Children from poor families are affected by lack of food, nutrition, education and social interactions among other things.Working together, the Government, corporates and NGOs/CSOs can help the children through immediate solutions,such as the provision of dry ration and financial help, and long-term solutions such as investment in school infrastructure and furthering innovation in the education sector.
Your ideas on solutions for the urban poor in general during COVID-19
As per the World Bank data, over 50% of the world’s populationlives in urban areas today. In India, the percentage of the urban population stands at 31.6% as per the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. These include people from vulnerable communities who mostly live a hand-to-mouth existence. They are also the worst-affected by the pandemic, their situation worsened by the fact that most of them live in slums and therefore, lack access to basic sanitation facilities, and many having lost their means of livelihood.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and in the foreseeable future, the urban poor—especially children and women—will need a supporting hand.On an immediate basis, they need food either in the form of cooked meals or essential groceries kits to tackle food and nutrition insecurity.In the long-run, they will require financial aid and means of livelihood considering that the pandemic is most likely to prompt them to reduce the consumption of food to overcome the economic burden.In the post-COVID world, there is a strong need for the involvement of NGOs, corporates, religious and social organisations and other such groups with access to the necessary resources to work with the Government to undertake organised humanitarian efforts for the underserved groups like the urban poor.