Pandemic led to drastic fall in income, food security across nation, reveals survey

A survey by Hunger Watch revealed that food insecurity worsened amongst urban households as a result of the pandemic, with 66% of respondents reporting lower income compared to pre-pandemic period

Representative Photo
Representative Photo
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Ashlin Mathew

A survey conducted by Hunger Watch has revealed that food insecurity has worsened amongst urban households as a result of the Covid-19 induced pandemic, with 66% of the respondents reporting that their income had fallen compared to the pre-pandemic period.

Among those surveyed, while 66% reported that their income had decreased during the pandemic, close to 60% said it was now less than half compared to pre-pandemic levels. This proportion was larger among urban households, among poorer households and among Muslim households.

The survey, which was conducted between December 2021 and January 2022, covered 6,500 respondents across 14 states including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The Right to Food Campaign in association with the Centre for Equity Studies conducted the Hunger Watch survey.

Over two-thirds of the respondents reported a decline in quality and quantity of food consumed. A greater proportion of urban households (69%) than rural households (47%) reported that their total monthly income at the time of the survey had declined compared to what it was pre-pandemic.

In urban areas, 40% lived in rented accommodation, and of those, 56% had unpaid rent at time of survey. However, in rural areas, 95% of the households lived in their own homes.

Pandemic led to drastic fall in income, food security across nation, reveals survey
The Right to Food Campaign and Hunger Watch

This survey was conducted almost two years after the first lockdown. “When everyone seems to be talk of recovery, there seems to be high-level of distress and food insecurity amongst the marginalised communities. The nutritional quality of food consumed was poorer than what it was before the pandemic began, which itself was inadequate to begin with,” explained Dipa Sinha, assistant professor at Ambedkar University and a food rights activist.

The incomes of Muslims has fallen more than that of Hindus. At least 65% of Muslim households reported that their incomes had fallen compared to pre-pandemic, compared to 51% of Hindu households.

The largest proportion reporting a fall in income was among general castes at 63%, compared to 50% among Other Backward Castes and 44% among Scheduled Tribes.

Only 5% households earned more than Rs 15,000 per month from all sources and 70% households earned less than Rs 7,000 per month. In the top income bracket of families earning more than Rs 15,000, 29% of the households were Scheduled Castes, 27% OBC and 21% belonged to the general category.

Almost all the respondents worried about lack of food. Almost 61% of those who responded stated that they could afford to eat only certain kinds of food, 60% were unable to eat healthy food, or were unable to eat as much or what types of foods they would have wanted to in the month preceding the survey.

67 % could not afford cooking gas in the month preceding the survey. The survey revealed that 45% of the respondents ran out of food, 32% were hungry but could not eat and 26% had to go without eating for a whole day.

Of the states surveyed, Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka and UP reported high incidence of overall food insecurity, close to 90%. More than half of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh respondents reported severe food insecurity.

Pandemic led to drastic fall in income, food security across nation, reveals survey
The Right to Food Campaign and Hunger Watch

This can have serious implications, underscored Sinha, in the long term for the health of the citizens. “This whole demographic dividend that we are constantly talking about will not have any effect as it will be a malnourished labour force,” pointed out Sinha.

Many of those who responded said they hardly had any nutrient rich food, instead they were focused on quelling their hunger. Two in every five persons stated that the nutritional quality or quantity of food the household eats has deteriorated. This was higher among urban households (59%) than among rural (35%). Nationally, 41% said that the quality of food they consumed had deteriorated.

Half of those surveyed had access to eggs, milk, flesh foods and fruits fewer than 2-3 times a month. More than a quarter reported eating even dark green leafy vegetables and pulses fewer than 2-3 times a month. Many of them did not believe that their situation would improve in the next three months either. Only 16% respondents felt that the food situation in the next three months would get better.

Of those who had a ration card, over 90% received some food grains from the PDS, including the free grains under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY). Government apathy was also visible in Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-day meal cases. Of those households which were eligible to get cooked meals for their children, less than 15% got it and less than 2% got money in their account.

Pandemic led to drastic fall in income, food security across nation, reveals survey
The Right to Food Campaign and Hunger Watch
Pandemic led to drastic fall in income, food security across nation, reveals survey
The Right to Food Campaign and Hunger Watch

“The GDP may eventually recover, but reversals of these statistics take much longer than reversing income as it has inter-generational effects, and affects the body. The government has to make a direct effort to improve nutrition. These get worse first and take a much longer time to get better,” added Sinha.

She said she hoped that the government would acknowledge the dire situation and extend the PMGKAY until the pandemic continued. “We want the government to universalise PDS and include pulses, millets and oil. The government should strengthen other nutritional programmes such as mid-day meals in schools and anganwadis. Unfortunately the recent budget saw drastic cuts in real terms in all of the allocations for the crucial social security schemes,” highlighted Sinha.

The Union government slashed the food subsidy to Rs 2.07 crore in the Budget estimate for 2022-23 from Rs 2.86 crore in the revised estimate for 2021-22; a reduction of 27%. It has also reduced food subsidy for decentralised procurement of foodgrains under NFSA to Rs 60,561 crore from Rs 75,290 crore (revised estimates).

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Published: 23 Feb 2022, 6:14 PM