DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD STUFF TO VULNERABLE GROUPS
The spread of COVID-19 comes with a tragic outlook for vulnerable communities around the globe. To date, Kenya has the highest number of reported infections and deaths compared to its neighboring countries. Currently, the impact and spread of infections are feared to be exacerbated by the huge number of people living in poverty; a weak health infrastructure; overcrowding in informal settlements; and poor access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Alarmed by a potential rise in food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, many counties and organizations are mounting special efforts to keep agriculture safely running as an essential business, markets well supplied in affordable and nutritious food, and consumers still able to access and purchase food despite movement restrictions and income losses. Changes in food-purchasing habits present an imminent threat to food security in Kenya. This is particularly the case for households living below the poverty line, who have resorted to purchasing only essential foodstuffs during the pandemic.
Tharaka Nithi County has experienced infestation of desert locusts, floods in some part of Tharaka Constituency as well as the rise in confirmed COVID19 cases. Following the government-imposed restrictions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the county is currently not only undergoing a health crisis but also economic crisis. GRADIF-K has been implementing a philanthropic food stuffs match initiative supporting thousands of vulnerable people in Tharaka North, Tharaka South and Chukaigambang’ombe Sub counties-Tharaka Nithi County aiming to neutralize the negative impact of Covid 19. 11 groups from these sub counties were used in identifying the vulnerable groups to support. Both GRADIF-K and groups identified supported the philanthropic activity, working continuously to mobilize communities around the threat of COVID-19, and sensitize them about the best practices to prevent transmission of the virus.
Capitalizing on the group’s deep knowledge of the community, GRADIF-K was able to identify the most vulnerable. The groups identified needy and vulnerable beneficiaries from a broad range of the population. The beneficiaries included the elderly, people with disabilities, widowed, and children living with HIV and AIDS and representatives of communities whose farms were invested by locusts. During food distribution the beneficiaries were given bar soaps and foodstuffs based on the group’s proposal and giving demonstrations about proper hand-washing techniques. At the same time, we shared general information on how to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Reasons for providing more relief food and Covid 19 items support to vulnerable households.
- There is need for Tharaka Nithi County government and Non -Governmental organizations in the county to continue cushioning vulnerable families during these pandemic times, through food aid and other essentials; including face masks as well as sensitization on the guidelines to adhere to minimize spread of covid-19. Most of the community members in Tharaka Nithi County have lost their jobs; businesses are struggling making it difficult for them to meet their daily needs. Actually they cannot afford to buy food and Covid 19 items like sanitizers and masks. Food is very key in strengthening the immunity of the people.
- There is need for the community to lobby the county government to provide services and support Covid 19 pandemic mitigation. Some community members cannot even afford a face mask which is critical for prevention of Covid 19.
- There is need to step up community sensitization on Covid 19 especially on the mood of transmission, hygiene practices and signs and symptoms. Most community members rely on radio and haven’t seen any other IEC materials on Covid 19.
Recommendation to County/ national government and other stakeholders during Covid 19 period
- In Tharaka Nithi County Households are going through devastation during these tough economic realities, the government and CSOs in the county need to put in place adequate safety nets to assure food security and support food producers.
- Instill a sense of solidarity in citizens– Empower communities and people to display solidarity and mutual support in these difficult times (Covid 19 period). Governments, incentivize individuals, businesses and charitable organizations need to continue donate food to the needy. If appropriate, governments should also consider fiscal incentives such as tax deduction for individuals and businesses and other forms of public recognition and celebration of generosity and solidarity.
- Prioritize the needs of women and gender equality– Gender inequality is still rampant in many parts of Tharaka Nithi County and this pandemic could exacerbate the problem. When it comes to food and nutrition security, women play a significant role in food production as well as transformation and food preparation. With school closed, women will have an additional burden of care. Governments should sensitize men, boys and other non gender binary people to consider splitting responsibility at home. All stakeholders should also ensure that all measures and policies are gender-sensitive and do not further widen the gender gap. Social protection services should also continue to operate and ensure sensitization against gender-based violence, which is at a risk of increasing with the social distancing and shelter-in-place measures.
- Utilization of mobile cash transfer in protecting the poor and the vulnerable- Governments have the duty to continue protecting the most vulnerable and poor people in society. Given the income lost due to the stay at home order and the social distancing measures, governments should consider a minimum monthly cash allocation to its population most at risk to enable them to put food on the table and cover other basic needs. Again, careful targeting should be an utmost consideration. With the proliferation of mobile money, governments should consider forming strategic partnerships with mobile companies and banks to enable this in the most efficient and secure manner. This will provide vulnerable people with a much-needed financial cushion. In the areas where hunger and food insecurity are prevalent like in the semi-arid parts of Tharaka Nithi County, our experience and the evidence tells us that a good part of the cash assistance households and individuals receive will be spent on purchasing food.
- Protect farmers & food workers: In Tharaka Nithi County farmers and people who provide labor to plant, harvest, transform and distribute our food are the backbone of our food systems – and should be supported and protected during the pandemic. Women often play a key role in this which is often not well recognized or receive equally compensated. This segment of the population should be considered a part of the essential function and should be treated well, supported and protected against the pandemic and any exploitation to avoid disrupting the food system and protect their rights. Delivery of subsidized input and other support provided by the government to farmers should not be interrupted, but rather, should be done in the safest manner. Other support functions and business along the food chain should also be considered as essential functions and be supported accordingly.
- Use food reserves wisely and target appropriately: Tharaka Nithi County government have stores for holding grains and other food reserves. Government should monitor prices and release food from these reserves if prices spike. In addition, government should also not hesitate to distribute or request assistance from CSOs like GRADIF –K to distribute food to those in need. Appropriate targeting should be ensured to avoid political exclusion of certain groups and elites. Women head of households, orphans, widows, senior citizens, the poor and other vulnerable people should be the principal target of food distribution.
- Keep food markets open while ensuring safety and social distancing: The vast majority of Tharaka Nithi residence continue to buy their food in open markets. Shutting down those marketplaces should be the last resort. Instead, governments should deploy advice for food safety and ensure social distancing in open markets.
While preventing the spread of Coronavirus and addressing the healthcare needs of people should be and remains the number one priority for Tharaka Nithi County government, they should not forget the livelihood as well as the food and nutrition security of their citizens. If innovative solutions are not found and people are worried about what to eat and other basic needs, they will not respect the directives and social distancing that are necessary to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This, in turn, will expose many to a greater risk of infections.