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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Here are 5 major problems rural India is facing because of Covid-19

So this is the latest from the Covid-19 scene in India. The second national serosurvey results were recently published and according to the figures, the pathogen is hurtling into the country’s rural territories. The pandemic, which initially had begun in big cities in early this year, is spreading in the villages now. What does this new development mean? What issues does it lead to? We shall discuss all these aspects in this article.

The background

According to a report, part two of the nation-wide serosurvey conducted by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) reveals that coronavirus spread in the rural villages of India, likely infecting 44.4 lakh people living in rural India by May. The survey findings point out that the seropositivity rate was highest at 69.4 per cent in the rural areas (villages) while in urban slums it was 15.9 per cent and in urban non-slums, it was recorded at 14.6 per cent. “The district-wise survey has derived these findings since more testing for the national sero-survey about was done in rural districts. The report suggests that the amount of testing that was done was about 74.15 per cent in rural villages, 9 per cent was done in urban slums and 16.84 per cent urban non-slum areas,” the report says.

So the spread of Covid-19 in rural areas has enough evidence now. This means it leads to certain problems, particularly for India’s villages. What are those problems?

Here are the 5 major problems rural India is facing because of Covid-19

1. Sharp dip in crop prices, business loss

According to a report, the rural sector may have held out the only sliver of hope amid the broader collapse in the first-quarter GDP numbers (-23.9%) but there are fresh pointers to a brewing crisis in the hinterland that could stall growth in the coming quarters.

While the over 3% agriculture growth in the first quarter factored in strong Rabi procurement, with high-price realisations getting reflected in the output numbers, fresh data from mandis indicate a slide in the prices of the intercrop produce — horticulture, milk and poultry.

This means farmers cannot be happy even though the Rabi season showed promise in terms of production. Our farmers are not getting enough prices for their crops, at least not the rates that their produce should fetch in general times. This leads to depression, anger, hopelessness among the farming community which ultimately leads to the second problem we have listed here i.e. farmers’ suicide.

2. Increased farmers’ suicide

Now farmer’s suicide is India’s old malady. Over the past couple of years, we have seen an increased rate of suicide among those belonging to the farming community. Now Covid-19, lockdown and other such related factors have reinforced this problem.

A report highlighted farm bankruptcies and debts have reached new levels in the pandemic. “This crisis is the making of this government,” said Vikas Rawal, a professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, to the New York Times. The expert, who has spent the last 25 years studying agrarian distress in India, said that he believes thousands of people who live and work on farms have most likely killed themselves in the past few months. “It’s hard to say exactly how many because there was massive underreporting of deaths, and even the media could not reach the hinterland because of the lockdown,” he said in the report.

3. Rise in child marriage

Driven by debt and distress since the pandemic and nationwide lockdown began, rural families are now considering marriage for their young daughters (minors) a necessary decision for the very survival of their migrant household. A report says, according to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, during the pandemic lockdown period from the last week of March up until June, authorities received 5,584 phone calls to prevent underage marriages across India. Also, state governments and NGOs have increasingly received letters and WhatsApp texts from minor girls seeking help. Child rights activists believe a number of ceremonies have gone unreported and unattended owing to the strict lockdown measures, small gatherings, and inadequate protective measures to monitor these exchanges. “According to the data collated by Women and Child Development department, a number of factors led to the surge in cases of child marriages. The pandemic and lockdown, the resultant closure of schools, reverse migration, the adverse impact on the rural economy and lack of financial security which has pushed many into poverty.,” the report highlights.

4. Job crunch, failure of village schemes

The problem of job crunch is not an urban issue, it is hitting the villages as well. Recent reports suggest that India’s rural employment guarantee scheme is falling short in helping residents tide over the economic distress caused by the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown restrictions. The pandemic lockdown has adversely affected India’s majority of states’ rural households. The lockdown led to the loss of livelihoods for migrant workers as well as local artisans, street vendors and agricultural labourers and for those whose income was based on minor forest produce.

The world’s largest public employment programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, witnessed high demand for work but as the virus spread in rural areas, the momentum is likely to break as health experts predict. If more and more people from villages start getting infected as the recent serosurvey suggests, it is difficult to say how the village welfare schemes would function.

5. Shortage of doctors, health workers in villages

Rural districts in India have accounted for over 50% of new coronavirus cases in July and August, according to a research report by State Bank of India. The World Health Organisation recently expressed concern that Covid-19 is moving “efficiently” from urban to rural India.

According to experts, one would expect that low population density should help reduce the spread of infection. But in rural areas, the advantage due to lower population density could be offset by factors such as lower acceptance of preventive practices, lesser or no access to diagnostic facilities, shortage of doctors and poor healthcare infrastructure. Mortality could be high given the lack of access to good healthcare facilities.

As we Indians are well aware that because of chronic underfunding of public health systems, understaffing, lack of infrastructure and often lack of caring attitude in the public healthcare facilities, people avoid going to these facilities. Only those who are really poor will seek care from government facilities as they have no other option’ is often the opinion expressed by rural people. Also, qualified doctors in the country do not want to work in rural areas, opined Dr Y Kalkonde neuroimmunologist and public health practitioner, working in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district.

So with all these problems looming large, we would expect and hope the Centre and respective state governments take necessary steps to contain the spread of Covid-19 in India’s rural regions.

 

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