(Based on data gathered up to June 10)
Even as COVID-19 spreads further across the country, the vulnerable rural communities need a shoulder to lean on in times of rising economic instability and looming penury. It would be wise and timely to anticipate and prepare for a surge in infections and further eventualities in rural India given the mass exodus of migrant labourers from urban centres.
A couple of months ago, just when the news of COVID-19 reached far and wide, many villages helped to check the spread of the coronavirus in rural India. Some had gone into self-isolation and restricted entrance to outsiders or put returnees in quarantine. After rail and road services opened up during ‘Unlock 1’ and the relief run by shramik trains, the flow of returnees to rural areas increased. Now, it remains to be seen, with the return of the migrants, how the coronavirus will affect the rural populace.
The pandemic has claimed at least 12,000 lives in the country – a significant jump from our previous report – and at least 360,000 people are infected by the disease. Worldwide, 8.46 million individuals have tested positive and 450,000 have died, according to the Coronavirus Resource Centre of Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile in India, the monsoon has arrived and farmers are preparing for kharif. In some areas sowing has already begun. In the backdrop of economic uncertainties unleashed by COVID-19 and rapidly rising challenges, the need of the hour is to provide support to sustain agricultural activities at the least.
Watershed Organisation Trust has been mobilising support for the needy in partnership with our donors, our ground staff at various regional centres, along with community-based organisations, gram panchayats, self-help groups and local civic bodies among others. Here is an overview of our activities on the ground.
In the seven states that we have a presence — Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – our regional centres and staff are working round-the-clock to ease the undue pressure our rural communities are facing from the immediate fallout of the pandemic. As each day passes, more and more challenges surface and more and more people are returning to the villages, hoping to restart their lives. Unprecedented as it is, WOTR and its partners are collaborating on all fronts to prepare and be ready, while mounting relief measures that will help the poor and vulnerable rebuild their lives and start afresh.
WOTR is doing everything it can to support communities in its project areas to cope with COVID-19. According to data gathered until June 10, we have reached out to 123,218 households in 646 villages of 25 districts in seven states.
Communications / Awareness
Communication, especially in today’s wired world, is a tool with tremendous potential. However, what we are witnessing of late, is a rise in the spread of rumours and fake news, in the context of COVID-19. To tackle this, WOTR has been organising awareness drives across the seven states to make people understand the dangers posed by unverified information circulated online regarding COVID-19. The sessions also help to build a sense of community, resilience and confidence among the villagers to stay sharp and focused to deal with the deadly disease.
2,268 awareness sessions, organised by WOTR, impacted 154,584 individuals, according to data gathered until June 10.
18 training sessions were attended by 1,123 participants of which 460 were women. 216 gram panchayat members, 364 Village Development/Health Committee members, 181 SHG members, 110 community members, 192 Wasundhara Sevikas/Sevaks and 28 government officers attended the training sessions.
Employment / Livelihood
As thousands arrive back home in their native villages, in a rather sad spectacle that India has not witnessed in recent history, rehabilitating these families – men, women, children and the elderly – already exhausted by their arduous journeys back from cities – is extremely critical. Providing the much-needed lifeline to these people, rekindling hope in their shattered lives, is of utmost importance to WOTR.
We are creating employment opportunities in villages where our projects are underway. We hope, in the near future, we can restore rural life back to normal in our project areas, as it was pre-COVID-19.
WOTR, through MNREGA, generated 258,226 labour days for 16,098 labourers. These workers are involved in soil and water conservation, and irrigation activities in our project areas. Since April 1, 11,059 families have benefitted from labour. WOTR spent Rs 2.24 cr and Rs 3.37 cr through MNREGA, since April 1, in wages.
Health and nutrition
Up to June 10, WOTR provided vitamins, minerals and deworming medication to 250 persons in the project villages of Bhoom and Paranda blocks in Osmanabad district, Maharashtra.
Return of the migrants
Labourers from Indian cities are arriving in their thousands, posing risk of infection in rural settlements. The truth is, most of them have nowhere to go – no other option, but to return to their native villages. In the past few weeks, we have seen heart-wrenching stories from across the country of families – men, women, children and the elderly – walking for days to reach home. Hopeless and fatigued, care and help for them should be mobilised on a war footing.
As of June 10, 18,264 returning migrants have arrived in WOTR’s project villages of which 4,679 are in quarantine. We have provided support for 923 migrant returnees as of June 10.
Distribution of essentials
With the supply chains gradually being restored across the country, the effect of back-to-back lockdowns is still taking a toll on rural community life. Supply of essentials remains a major challenge in these parts for migrant returnees, daily wagers, children, women and the elderly. Those already living in poverty are pushed back further into economic uncertainty and hence face greater risk.
WOTR has been distributing essentials such as grocery kits, sanitary kits and protective face masks at the village-level. 341 tailors made 82,956 face masks. 97,243 individuals received face masks.
How WOTR is helping tribal hamlets in Jharkhand
Some tribal settlements in Jharkhand are so poor that they cannot even afford face masks. On social media, the dire situation was depicted where they were using leaves of some trees as masks to shield themselves from infection.
With the help of funds provided by IndusInd Bank Ltd for rapid response and relief for COVID-19, WOTR began to locally manufacture protective face masks and distributed them in the most vulnerable villages of our project areas. It was decided to distribute 2,500 masks to the villagers. At the village-level, six female tailors from our project villages – Gullu and Binda – prepared home-made sanitised masks for fellow villagers as well as for nearby villages. WOTR’s project team supported these women in purchasing fabric for stitching masks. From every face mask stitched, they will earn Rs 7 and generate an income of Rs 17,500 in a span of 10 days.
On May 7, 2020, face masks were distributed in four villages — Binda, Jamda, Gullu and Rodo. Panchayat Samiti Pramukh of Murhu, Elis Ordya, herself distributed masks in Gullu and Jamda.
In the present situation, a lot of problems are faced by daily wage labourers and small enterprises as most of the economic activities at the village-level have come to a grinding halt. People are unable to work to sustain financially. In this situation, mask preparation and distribution has not only helped the overall community in taking protective measures against COVID-19, but also engaged some community members, thus generating extra household incomes. Villagers are very happy that under the current stressful situation, they received humanitarian support from WOTR, with financial support from IndusInd Bank Ltd.
(Excerpted from an article published in India Water Portal, authored by WOTR’s Sujaya Dangwar and Shyna Dudeja. To read this story click here)
Till date, WOTR has distributed 7,722 grocery kits, 28,573 sanitary kits and 82,956 face masks across its seven project states apart from facilitating PDS to 6,153 households.
WOTR was already implementing multilayer farming and kitchen garden activities before the onset of the pandemic as part of measures taken to build resilience in rural India to the unfolding climate crisis. Now, this has proved beneficial to rural communities. The initiatives improve household food security, making people self-reliant during crises like COVID-19.
As of June 10, 2020, 24,266 households have benefitted from 11,757 kitchen gardens and 458 multilayer farms.
Besides, WOTR facilitated the sale of 12,764 quintals of agri produce — 12,529 Q rice, 200 Q wheat and 35 Q vegetables. 1,801 families received Rs 2.27 cr from the sale.
Our Wasundhara Sevaks/Sevikas and village-level workers — the Panlot Sevaks, Jal Sevaks, Mahila Pravartaks — along with Village Development Committees and self help groups (SHGs) have come together to mobilise support to rein in the spread of COVID-19. They are providing whatever help the communities require to tide over the massive losses incurred in the past few months. They have been at the forefront providing lifesaving hygiene essentials, conducting awareness campaigns, sewing and distributing protective face masks and sanitisation kits, besides providing essential supplies.
By June 10, 2020, WOTR had mobilised 3,251 active personnel on the ground of which 1,994 were women.
WOTR’s response to COVID-19 has been extensively covered by the media. Until June 10, 30 news articles have appeared in local newspapers and 10 news stories in local television networks.
WOTR is grateful for the generous support of our donors, friends and colleagues who have made possible all of the above interventions. We would like to thank Becker-Cordes Stiftung, Bread for the World, EATON India Foundation, Education for Employability Foundation (E2F) through the Rapid Community Response to COVID-19 Group (RCRC), Hindustan Unilever Foundation, IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, IndusInd Bank Ltd, AXIS Bank Foundation, Khandke Wind Energy Pvt. Ltd, Rotary Club of Pune, Supraja Foundation, Tata Steel Foundation and the American Friends of WOTR and all WOTRians who have spontaneously contributed a part of their salaries.