By Arans Tabaruka
It’s evident that many urban vulnerable poor (as government prefers to call them) have struggled to receive relief from government during the COVID19 lockdown; they are however still hopeful according to the previous presidential address and commentators. The luckiest have been the urban dwellers who received food rations of the arranged hand-mouth vulnerable support. It’s a pity though that this support despite several explanations went to one side of tax payers leaving a whole lot in the countryside with a reasoning that the rural dwellers are capable of surviving,(prefer survival for the fittest adage) and that they still have an edge over their counter parts in urban centers of Uganda.
I have argued this in dissenting based on two or three assertions, one that the urban authorities having high levels of sensitization and awareness they did not fall prey, they reacted fast to salvage the damage so the relief was an addition; two that the massive hand-mouth popular on the streets and revellers in Kampala and its environs anticipated much more from the Covid19 Pandemic and a big number of them sneaked out of town to their country homes or neighboring towns which look more rural than urban and a possible third; that the growing level of unemployment is forcing the young population to learn the hard way and avoid mediocrity, so they have more crisis management tactics than the normal. Blame anything on the rampant rural-urban migration that I hope should be sought a remedy.
The real crisis about this pandemic ambush is the story behind government’s failure to ascertain data in urban authorities and later rural communities, all they have is lamp sum figure mostly used in posturing for development aid or election manipulations whichever angle of approach you prefer. They struggled to establish the bare minimum data, the number of school going children per household per village and later mapping out an anticipated 1.5 million vulnerable people in Kampala and Wakiso for food relief support.
For starters only in Kanungu, there are 51,000 children in 135 primary schools, more than 20,000 in 45 secondary schools affected by the mandatory break and stuck, there is no clear information as to whether learning materials will arrive soon and yet still the radio, TV and online learning hardly impact on this hard to reach had to stay areas. If there is any part of the country disrupted by the lockdown it’s the rural communities.
That is why the ministry of health and education was planning from abstract, for instance the education ministry’s bid to supply learning materials through the LCs system supervised by the sub-county chief and RDC from the top end was successfully miserable. It never took off; in case it was a relief measure I hope somebody will account for the value for money. The Health center III did not receive any COVID19 support from the ministry at least as far as I speak from this porous border point end of DRC. We can assume that the curve is flat but not for the border points.
These conspiracies in my view expose the institutional naivety of the importance of data to the extent that it’s taking government 35 days of a lockdown to establish factual figures rendering authorities like Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and National Planning Authority (NPA) were inefficient as principals of national statistics and excellence.
Large numbers of the country’s population (abstract reports again) were already struggling with severe acute food insecurity and poverty due to pre-existing shocks or crises. This means they were already on the extreme end of the hunger spectrum, and less equipped to fend off the virus. The most disadvantaged again were the rural communities.
The vast majorities who live in rural areas in Uganda and depend on agricultural production, seasonal jobs in agriculture, fishing, or pastoralism will soon be on their knees. If they become ill or constrained by restrictions such as this lockdown that prevented them from cultivating their land, tending for their animals, going fishing, or accessing markets to sell produce, buy food, or get seeds and supplies. It will be more miserable, this is why I argue that the real pandemic is still in the wings.
Compounded economic impacts are felt especially by women and girls who are generally earning less, saving less, and holding insecure jobs or living close to poverty. As the COVID-19 pandemic deepens economic and social stress coupled with restricted movement and social isolation measures you have already heard reports of gender-based violence, this is prevalent in the rural communities, women have been lockdown at home with their abusers while services to support them are being disrupted or made inaccessible.
The rural communities have very little to fall back on, materially speaking. They could find themselves forced to abandon livelihoods. By that I mean they might have to sell off their produce. Or eat all of their seeds instead of saving some to replant.
Once a rural farming family does that, getting to be self-reliant again becomes extremely difficult. Some might even have no other choice than to leave their farms in search of assistance.
It’s my conclusion therefore that the visionary of this country ought to see that rural communities will be more susceptible to COVID-19 in both the short and long term.
The writer is a Community Rights Activist with IRUCE Communities firstname.lastname@example.org