The global pandemic affects everyone, but especially the vulnerable populations who still struggle to have access to the basic necessities such as food security, water security, and social justice.
According to a study released May 13, “COVID-19 induced Lockdown: How is the Hinterland Coping?” (study included 5,162 households across 47 districts in 12 states between April 28 and May 2), 68 percent of households had reduced food items in their meals; half of households had reduced the number of times they were eating each day; and women in nearly 62 percent of households had to make more trips to fetch water.[i]
As rural India faces more extreme hunger and acute water shortages, Sehgal Foundation’s core work is even more critical to help rural communities access these most fundamental needs. With government announcing relief packages to reboot sectoral growth and providing direct cash transfers to the below poverty line households and others in rural India, these most vulnerable people must be made aware about these entitlements and have access to them. Sehgal Foundation’s experience in the development sector, along with support from the communities and partners, is currently helping to reach rural households in 980 villages in31 districts in eight states.
Changing times, strengthened efforts
The foundation’s work during the pandemic has focused on preparing communities for better prevention and increased resilience. The response has been multifarious, including facilitating village sanitation drives, operating toll-free helplines, cloth mask stitching by youth volunteers, broadcasting awareness campaigns on community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat, helping farmers with crop advice for the coming season, and supporting Common Service Centers operated by the government in distributing masks, soaps, and phenol.
Identifying the worst-hit households
Sehgal Foundation teams at the villagelevel have identified the most marginalized households so they are the first to receive masksand government relief. The teams are distributing crop inputs to 417small and marginal farmers in district Alwar, Rajasthan.
Masks prepared by instructors and participants of the foundation’s Life Skills Education centersare distributed door-to-door as a preventive measure to guard rural households against COVID-19.
Catalyzing village-level institutions and partnerships for prevention
Sehgal Foundation’s response to COVID-19 rests on the faith that people can survive these difficult times by working closely with gram panchayats, school management committees, and village health nutrition and sanitation committees, which have a critical role to play and are trusted by communities. The team has facilitated village sanitization and helped government-operated Common Service Centers with the distribution of soaps and sanitizers. Dry ration kits were distributed to 750 families in Muzaffarpur and East Champaran districts in Bihar.Working with Kodur Gram Panchayat of Chilamathur mandal, covering four villages in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, the foundation team collaborated with GMR Varalakshmi Foundation to distributemasks, soap, and phenol to 500 poor families, and facilitated sanitization in four villages (Muddapalli, Madhurepalli, Koduru, and Timmadipalli). The teams conducted an awareness session for the shepherd community that focused on COVID-19prevention measures, sharing the importance of hand-washing, wearing masks, and social distancing.The Andhra Pradesh team also distributed free masks to 200 people in Chilamathur, Anantapur, and distributed food to local and migrant labor in partnership with local youth groups. The Telangana team facilitated distribution of 24 kg rice, Rs. 500 rupees, and vegetables to fifty laborers in Nuthankal village of Medchal Malkajgiri, and facilitated spray sanitizing the entire village.
Farmer field days and interface meetings have transitioned into telephone farm advice. Local Sehgal Foundation teams engage with farmers and provide them with packages of practices to ensure increased productivity. During April,417 farmers in Rajasthan received cotton inputs. Local teams connect with ten farmers each day in their village and share advice on precautions to be taken against COVID-19 while harvesting their crops, using implements, sharing farm equipment, cotton input use, and self-care while returning home after harvesting. The team planned themillet input purchase and distribution in more than fifty villages of Haryana and Rajasthan. In Haryana, farmers are given high-yield varieties and crop inputs for moongpulse cultivation. Some farmers in village Chakozi and Chandoli in district Samastipur, Bihar, resorted to the cash crop menthe(a medicinal and aromatic plant),which can be ready in seventy-five days, which will help farmers come out of distressed times with increased incomes.
Sustainable water-harvesting structures
Rural communities face acute water shortages, and the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak increases India’s water woes due to pressure from added migration. Water efficiency, groundwater rejuvenation, and safe drinking water play increasingly critical roles. Spreading awareness about how to be water-efficient is essential. Foundation teams focus on personal and community hygiene that includes efforts to use water-use efficiently especially while hand-washing. For increasing access to safe drinking water at the household level, Sehgal Foundation promotes a low-cost biosand water filter (JalKalp) for rural populations that doesn’t require any energy or spare parts replacement. JalKalp is capable of filtering all biological contaminants, suspended particles, iron, and even arsenic with some customization.
Sehgal Foundation has conducted a series of webinars on sustainable water management, including rainwater harvesting and WASH practices for sharing know-how on good water management practices.
Propelling governance awareness in rural communities
The youth club of village Mubarikpur in Alwar, Rajasthan, decided to spread their awareness further. They contacted 280 women to share information on COVID-19in the project area. Girls from the foundation’s Taruni centers stitched masks at home and distributed them in the village. The toll-free helplines operated by Sehgal Foundation at theCitizen Information and Support Center in Nuh, Haryana, and Samastipur, Bihar, received over 1,400 calls on queries related to COVID-19 prevention, government schemes during the pandemic, and the government helpline. The physical interface with students of digital literacy classes has transitioned to online training with over eighty-five students attending classes online. With support from partner organizations, Sehgal Foundation teams have provided relief materials (dry rations, 30,000 masks, 2,500 sanitizers) for 400 families of East Champaran to be distributed by the KVK of district.
Community radio spreads awareness
Despite the remarkable increase in communications networks and internet-based connectivity, a vast majority of rural people remain disconnected from the national mainstream in every respect. In rural India, oral means of communications, i.e. radio, still hold the highest penetration. Community radios have played a unique role on the front lines of the pandemic by disseminating vital, accurate information, fighting misinformation, and dispelling myths and rumors. These stations are often managing with one staff person daily or carry on broadcasts remotely using technology.
Community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat in Nuh, Haryana, has been on air with two hours of fresh programming related to COVID-19, which includes campaigns on spreading positivity in lockdown, social distancing that can be practiced during farming, and expert interviews sharing information about the new normal and how to cope with it. Programs address feature community members who share about their changed routines. Live sessions include experts on water, agriculture, and governance that have helped resolve community queries on COVID-19 and share information about precautions to be taken in those sectors.
[i] A collaborative study by: PRADAN, Action for Social Advancement, BAIF, Transform Rural India Foundation, Grameen Sahara, SAATHI-UP, and The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) with research support of VikasAnvesh Foundation and Sambodhi. See https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/covid-19-lockdown-50-percent-of-surveyed-households-in-rural-india-eating-less/story-DZZOQFlWPq7k1AZ2Gu7f0M.html.