While we’re talking and caring about COVID-19, how about POVID-20?

LDUs offloading and loading Covid-19 relief posho into a pickup van for distribution. A VoA photo.

By Milton Emmy Akwam

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has gravely affected the World population and her economies, bringing almost all global developments to a pause, for the first time – in many decades.

For more than 150 days, since China’s Wuhan City produced for the World the novel Coronavirus, we have been talking about the disease it causes, COVID-19.

Governments of different countries and the World Health Organisation [WHO] have issued guidelines and measures in a bid to curb further infections and fatalities.

Health experts have, since the deadly virus became wild, been guiding their country governments as stringent restrictions are put in place.

Focusing on Uganda, whose government has done a considerable job of reducing the spread of COVID-19 by implementing a lockdown which is now in its second edition; banning social gatherings and activities in areas with high population and concentrations, among others, there is a high hope that the Peal of Africa will be largely venerated. 

However, while the World has put more focus on fighting and defeating the pandemic, Uganda’s leadership is undertaking two things at a go.

One, the Ministry of Health has embarked on following up at least 20,000 potential cases [contacts] across the country to ensure Uganda is corona free before the freedom to do anything can be possible. Testing of samples from people across different borders and those in institutional quarantine is ongoing.

Two, the government, through the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has been distributing relief food to vulnerable people within the greater Kampala Metropolitan area. This program, faced criticism from a section of Ugandans, including the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga who termed it ‘discriminatory’.

The public reacted, following the restricted number of localities in which such relief food and other items were being given. Many called on the government to extend the provisions to upcountry districts and villages where the majority of the vulnerable poor actually exists.

What sparked the debate and public anger was the fact that shs59.4b of the supplementary budget was allocated to the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Relief in the OPM to be used to buy relief food to feed the vulnerable Ugandans now suffering due to the lockdown.

Even with the allocation of shs59.4b already available for use, generous Ugandan individuals, companies and organisations had started donating cash, food and other items to the national taskforce. These donations were not for government’s use but for the citizens it serves.

Although the government, especially President Museveni in his 12th televised  address to the nation on coronavirus, thanked Ugandans for adhering to strict guidelines, and further asked them to “stay home and stay safe”, many Ugandans are living with hunger and anger because of the government’s disparity.

The President also said in his 12th address to the nation that whereas tourism and hotels’ sectors have been affected by the virus and lockdown, agriculture should continue. He reminded Ugandans on how he’s busy taking care of his herds of cattle during this lockdown.

Back to food relief and monies donated by generous Ugandan companies and philanthropic individuals. In my opinion, the government is somewhat positioned to contain the hunger of what she calls the “vulnerable poor” in this country. To me, the “vulnerable poor” are people living with poverty.

What is poverty?

Borrowing a definition from Uganda Poverty Assessment by World Bank (UPA, 2016), poverty is the lack or insufficiency of money to meet basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter. Poverty can be measured in monetary terms based on the monthly (or annual) expenditure of a given individual. That expenditure is then compared to an index called the poverty line. However, poverty is much more than the mere lack of money. It is also about scarcity in other important areas of wellbeing such as education, health, water, and housing.

Poverty reduction over the last decade

According to the Uganda Poverty Assessment 2016, the Pearl of Africa managed to reduce monetary poverty at a very rapid rate. The percentage of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line dropped from 31.1 percent in 2006 to 19.7 percent in 2013.

Also, the country was one of the fastest in Sub-Saharan Africa to reduce the share of its population living on $1.90 (PPP) per day or less, from 53.2 percent in 2006 to 34.6 percent in 2013.

Something to think about is that the country is quoted to be lagging behind in several important non-monetary areas, notably improved sanitation, access to electricity, education (completion and progression), and child malnutrition.

Predicted current statuses of poor Ugandans

Whereas there is no reliable and ready statistics to tell how many Ugandans will suffer or are currently suffering due to the lockdown brought by COVID-19, predictably, out of the current 45,475, 228 million Ugandans, millions countrywide could be in real need of relief food and other government support.

According to Baloon Ventures, Uganda’s informal sector accounts for 75 percent of the total employment but up to 85 percent of working women are employed in the informal sector while 92 percent of the youth entering the workforce join this sector. In every home, women are key pillars and without them, a home is incomplete.

With nobody and no government certain on when the COVID-19 pandemic will end its interruption of economies and its attacks on people’s lives and social lifestyle, the government’s message of  “wash your hands regularly with clean water and soap, and sanitizer, keep social distance, etc” will be the daily message.

Apparently, many households have consumed food they had stocked, including seeds for planting. This includes maize, beans, and soybeans, among others.

In my native village of Oketobilo, Akaka parish, Aber sub-county in Oyam district, I have been told of how people have cooked beans seedlings they had stored for planting and how the current lockdown is making more than hundreds of residents desperate for government support.

With unpredictable rainfall, farmers could count losses as their newly germinated seedlings might be stunted due to drought. Sometimes, heavy rainfall can also affect germinating seeds.

Now, while government will remind us to “take care of COVID-19” by “sanitizing, washing our hands regularly with clean water and soap” – every Ugandans, rich or poor [vulnerable] must also start a new discussion on how to handle “Poverty Viral Disease 20 [POVID-20.”

POVID-20 is not globally recognised at this time, it’s not even “recognised” by Ugandan government but its citizens feel it is biting them, now.

Poverty shall be immense, it shall kill, it shall make our children below 10 years malnourished because coronavirus had kept all of us in our houses and government shall be overwhelmed to feed all of us.

We may not die of coronavirus, but we shall “die of poverty related signs and symptoms”. Our body immunity will be weakened – then, we shall die!

POVID-20, a possible first-born child of COVID-19 could be less deadly and limited to some continents, whose governments have advised its people to use the current lockdown to undertake agricultural activities.

The virus has put the entire world population in a state of despair with limited productivity as many people are currently staying home. In my thinking, the novel POVID–20, yet to be recognised, shall affect both rural and urban families, alike.

Finally, let’s continue washing our hands with clean water and soap, let’s sanitize and keep social distance.

#StaySafe, #StayHome – Lets fight coronavirus together.

The author [right] and his earlier message.

The writer is the Founder and CEO of Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Media Studies as well as Editorial Director, TND News

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