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Caritas India and her Partners’ Adaptive Measures in Lockdown 4.0

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The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has created a global health crisis that has had a deep impact on the way we perceive our world and our everyday lives. The rate of contagion and patterns of transmission threatens our sense of agency. Also, the safety measures put in place, to contain the spread of the virus, require social distancing by refraining from doing what is inherently humane which is to find solace in the company of others. As the third phase of the national lockdown ended on Sunday, 17th May, the Centre announced an extension till May 31. However, Lockdown 4.0 comes with a list of considerable relaxations in non-containment zones that are set to further open the economy. While all markets, offices, industries, and businesses will be allowed to open, inter-state and intrastate movement of passenger vehicles and buses will be permitted with the consent of the states involved.

Various states are racing to slow the spread of the virus by testing and treating patients, carrying out contact tracing, limiting travel, quarantining citizens, and canceling large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts, and schools. The pandemic is moving like a wave—one that may yet crash on those least able to cope. People living on the margins like daily wage laborers, migrant workers, transgenders, homeless, and those historically marginalized, are at particular risk of the pandemic.

Caritas India with the support of 174 diocesean partners, non-diocesean partners, various other government, and non-government stakeholders is working hard to strengthen crises management and response, and addressing critical social and economic impacts. Caritas India has been in the forefront of humanitarian response since the very early stages of COVID 19 crises, donating face masks, sanitizers, hygiene kits, food kits- dry ration and cooked food to the people.

Psychosocial Support – Like other pandemics, COVID-19 is creating immense psychosocial disturbances. The disease involves an unfamiliar threat that is difficult to detect and challenging to distinguish from more benign illnesses. Absent a vaccine, non-pharmaceutical interventions are the only way to prevent infections, and they dramatically upset everyday bodily habits, social interactions and economic exchanges. The partners have provided timely intervention by creating telephonic centers for counselling and psycho-social support. To understand the plight of migrating population and serve them better, partners have been able to build linkages with the respective administration to engage in community-based support mechanisms that could be offered through volunteers in the communities, animators and community-based leaders. Partners have been able to create network and with the helpline established by Caritas India for the support, this would become the next big volunteer-based intervention for the organization that could be activated during any Disaster. More than 12 DSSSs in Tamil Nadu have identified qualified and skilled volunteers towards supporting in counseling services and have obtained official identity cards from government to work as tele-counselors. One of the partners in Maharashtra, SEVA, has created video-call groups for the senior citizens who are falling under depression. Counselling is given to boost the morale of the people and support them emotionally and mentally to cope up with their distress.

Disaster Preparedness – Extremely severe cyclone Amphan that hit West Bengal and Odisha on May 20th foregrounds the compounded challenge of dealing with natural disasters—increasingly exacerbated by climate amidst a pandemic. India needs to carefully balance disaster-preparedness with pandemic-preparedness. While this will call for risk assessment at the intersections—of a wide range of health, climate, economic, and social progress indicators—this also calls for preemptive deployment of measures rather than trying to reconcile disaster response with pandemic response. It is also important to create armies of self-sufficient, well-prepared communities who can fight and face future disasters. Until now, the affected populations were the receivers of aid, now is the right time to transform these communities into resilient communities who are aware and prepared to face and fight future disasters. Since partners are tied up with the district administration, they are on working on the disaster preparedness. Partners in Kerala are indeed active in the concept of Disaster clinic, so that they can take the assistance of Disaster Clinic volunteers during the pandemic situation. The official broadcasting channel of Tamil Nadu Church- Madha TV, is regularly telecasting liturgical and para liturgical services along with the disaster risk reduction and community preparedness measures. Inventories of community leaders is being maintained by the partners and internet and technology is being utilized for the quick and effective communication.

Handholding Support– Support is being given by the field staff to fill online applications for the ration card, as only those with the cards could avail the Govt schemes as of now. Partners are also in a continuous touch with the farmers and encouraging them to continue vegetable farming. Women farmers are being supported and encouraged to sell their produce in nearby villages at a reasonable price. Partners are actively involved in engaging the community for better days ahead. All the partners are focusing more on promoting organic farming. Online training on family farming is organized by most of our partners. Some of the catholic agencies have decided to initiate the planning phase with the people and brainstorm new business that could be started as per each one’s capacity and skills, such as broom selling, collective duckery, collective vegetable farming etc. Some of the partners are also planning to have a long-term rehabilitation programme for the migrants in their respective operational areas. Dioceses of Adilabad in Telangana is helping the migrants and tribal people to get back to their homes, by providing transportation support in form of ticket fare and vehicles.

Innovations – Caritas India partners have proposed measures to orient SHG members on initiating a loan system to those in need outside their group, mobilizing resources to provide livestock to the migrant & daily earner families, encouraging small size meetings while maintaining the social distance, creating awareness to the PRI members regarding various schemes that have been introduced by the Govt so that it could be availed by everyone in the village. To commemorate the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si, Caritas India has organized a series of events in association with her partners and collaborators, where one poster is released every day on different themes of Laudato Si, along with holding a webinar. Apart from the digital takeover, livelihood programs like mega agri-farm campaigns have been promoted through seed supply to many farmers. Blood donations have been held at hospitals since the availability of blood banks seems very less.

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and one of the greatest challenges to mankind. Since its emergence in India, the virus has spread to every state and cases are rising every day. In this background, Caritas India has been taking lead in the emergency response by not leaving a mile unturned. While addressing the question of misinformation and catering to the psychosocial needs of distinct age groups and socioeconomic conditions, Caritas India through its national emergency helpline has managed an effective public health communication. This pandemic has led to the unemployment of many people from the weaker segments, so the pressing need of the time is to fight hunger and starvation. Partners continue their assistance and contributions during this pandemic from day one to this day. A more pronounced focus on community kitchen initiatives for government staffs and health workers, migrants crossing the border, transgenders, HIV positive people, cancer patients, tribals and gypsies, elderly people and persons with disabilities, has been observed this week. Caritas India has not only come up with effective strategies for helping individuals in dealing with social and physical distancing, but also tried to bridge the inequalities and reduce stigma, prejudice and discrimination that exists in the society.