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India: Day labourers are threatened by ruin

News from 2020-05-06

In India, too, the Coronavirus poses a great challenge to the population. Christoph Kessler, head of the KfW office in Delhi, is currently still on site and describes the situation in India from his home office. He also explains why the Corona crisis is a particularly difficult situation for the country.

The current situation is marked by the lockdown Prime Minister Modi announced for the entire country on 23 March. It was initially valid for three weeks and has now been extended until 3 May. In concrete terms, this means that only the most important services are maintained and people are basically allowed to leave their homes only to provide for their basic needs.

empty streets
Due to the lockdown the streets in Delhi are empty as never before.

After the announcement of the lockdown, many people in Delhi immediately set out to buy supplies in the numerous shops. "Even though the government always emphasised and continues to emphasise that the supply of essential goods is guaranteed, I remember the crowds that gathered outside and inside the shops that evening ", reports Christoph Kessler.

The team of the KfW office also has to adapt to the new situation. Everyone works from home now, and all meetings, both internal and with external offices, take place as telephone conferences. This means that the KfW office is still able to continue work despite the lockdown, albeit with restrictions. "Personally, the regular contact with the Indian office staff is particularly important to me. Being able to inquire how they are doing and at the same time still be on site is a sign of solidarity in these special times," says Christoph Kessler.

Büroleiter Indien im home office
Christoph Kessler, head of the KfW Delhi office, is also currently working from home.

Day labourers are threatened by ruin

The biggest humanitarian problem in Delhi is the hundreds of thousands of day labourers in construction, catering or transport who lost their jobs overnight. They no longer have any means of livelihood, and very few have any reserves. Since passenger trains and long-distance buses have ceased operations, people cannot return to their home towns. Although there are already some government support measures in place, the aid programmes for day labourers are only slowly getting underway.

Therefore, many have set out on foot on their way home, sometimes walking hundreds of kilometres. Shortly before Easter, the government of the state of Haryana had provided about 100 buses to enable transport. But the crowds and the dense community during these transports probably accelerated the spread of the virus. As in many places in Europe, it is to be feared that the exodus from the cities, in view of the imminent lockdown, has encouraged the spread of Corona.

"Social distancing" is hardly possible in India

India, too, finds itself in the dilemma that "social distancing" is hardly possible because of the high population density and close social cohesion. In relation to the high population density, the available capacities for testing and treating COVID-19 patients are extremely scarce. Considerable efforts are being made to cope with the situation, for example through army support or the massive production of respiratory equipment in state-owned enterprises. However, the prospects of defeating the virus in the foreseeable future, of being able to test significant parts of the population or even to treat them with intensive care medicine are dim. As of April 20, there were 17,265 infections and 543 deaths due to corona.

A high price for the population

The people who work in the informal sector, which accounts for the largest share of the workforce nationwide, are also losing their livelihoods as a result of the lockdown. Although there is a long tradition of government support for the poor in India, the procedures are lengthy and it takes a long time for the aid to reach the people.

Under these circumstances, there is hardly any doubt in the country that the coronavirus is likely to spread further. There is scepticism even about the prospects of at least reducing the number of new infections to a level the health system can cope with, not to mention the fact that many infections and deaths from Covid-19 are not even recorded.

Update from 26.06.2020

Slum vor indischer Großstadt
Slums outside a large Indian city. Sufficient protection against the risk of infection hardly seems possible here.