Right to food and nutrition in Covid time

05 August 2020

Mehedi Hasan Bappy :
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the major phenomena of the century that shows how vulnerable we remain. In this situation, Muslims worldwide celebratd Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, when the global number of coronavirus cases crossed 18 million and more than 689,100 people died. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, there are 239,800 people tested COVID-19 positive and more than 3,100 people have lost life. This pandemic created a health and humanitarian crisis threatening the food security and nutrition of millions of people around the world. COVID-19 has impacted every sphere of life in countries like Bangladesh. The low-income people are suffering most for the economic crisis induced by this pandemic. The people who are associated with informal sectors in rural and urban poor are severely affected. Many of them have lost their employment wholly, or the income opportunities have drastically shrunk, and their earning has fallen at stake. Usually, these people have very limited or no savings and live hand to mouth.
 According to the government statistics, there are about one-fifth of the country's population (20.5%) are poor who could not get enough food, and around 20 million (10.5 % extremely poor) people could not earn enough to buy enough food. On the other hand, Bangladesh ranks 83rd out of 123 countries and lowest among South Asian countries as stated in the Global Food Security Index 2019. In COVID-19 situation it is apprehended that they are downsizing their essential livelihood expenditure, which might have implications for their food intake and nutrition. Since COVID-19 has been going alarming and undeclared lockdown started most food commodity supply chains have been disrupted, in particular, dairy, poultry and fisheries are under stress. The prices of rice, lentils, and beef increased, while that of wheat flour, eggs and broiler chickens decreased. That created an impact on people livelihood.
The livelihoods of 98.6 percent of the poor people are severely affected due to the prolonged pandemic of COVID-19. They have faced a decline in their income, loss of job, the closing of shops and business activities, and even a complete halt of income. The study found that though facing economic hardship, only a few respondents have changed their occupations, which implies that it is not easy to get new works. This was revealed in a study on "Impacts of COVID-19 on Food-intake and Nutrition of Poor People: A Rapid Appraisal" conducted by Right to Food Bangladesh, a platform of civil society organizations and networks, peasants' organizations, trade unions, women organizations, youth organizations, researchers, academia, marginalized people and individual among others.
Poor people have been suffering from the insufficient food supply due to pandemic of COVID 19. Nearly 87 percent of poor people have been facing hardship to arrange for adequate food and nutritious food. Even 5 percent of poor lived on one meal a day during the previous week from the interview. The study found that the shortage of food is relatively high in Mymensingh and Sylhet divisions.
The study was conducted in mid-May to June 2020, among 834 randomly selected economically vulnerable people in 37 districts of Bangladesh covering all administrative divisions where the respondents were rickshaw and van drivers, scooter and taxi drivers, transport workers, small shopkeepers, road or pavement vendors, barbers, beauty parlor workers, garbage collectors, part-time housemaids, bricklayers, workers in small workshops, street vendors and street vendors, Individual.
Nutrition is considered key to building immunity, support recovery, protect against illness and infection.  And it is very important in terms of children for their growth, stay healthy and strong. Where the research found the family who has a child of 2 to 5 years old, around 80% of respondents could not manage nutritious food for more than two days.
The study also enquired about the nutrition status of pregnant women or lactating mothers during the lockdown. Out of the 124 pregnant women or lactating mothers only 11 respondents mentioned that they could manage to provide extra (nutritious) food to the pregnant woman or lactating mother in their respective households. Thus 90 % could not manage extra food for them.
This situation is alarming. The children of these households have severe risks of facing health problems related to nutritional deficiencies. While taking extra and nutritious food is very essential for pregnant women and lactating mothers. Lack of proper nutrition would not only increase the health risk of the mother but also the baby.
Considering the findings, the study recommended that various government initiatives to support the poor (in cash or in-kind) should be made available to poor people in urgent need of food. Nutritional food for children should be supplied in the food baskets for the poor. It also suggested to the improvement of the supply chain of agricultural products to ensure efficient food supply throughout the country and a good price for the producers.
However, not only the government but also collective efforts from the NGOs, Civil Society Organizations and other relevant stockholders should focus on ensuring proper food and nutrition for the vulnerable community to protect from hunger and malnutrition.The above scenario indicates the pandemic comes up with the reality to think about the Right to Food & Nutrition of the vulnerable groups, where enacting a Right to Food Act might be a way out for ensuring their food intake & nutrition like this situation.
(Mehedi Hasan Bappy, Department of Nutrition & Food Engineering, Daffodil International University. Email: [email protected])

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