How Covid-19 is further marginalising the vulnerable

5 November 2020 01:15 am - 5     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A A A

Pix by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe

 

Working from home privilege is not accessible to all workers

Online learning deepened existing education inequalities

Home quarantine further difficult for those who don’t have basic facilities

Only 40% of households in Sri Lanka with children aged 5-18 would have an internet connection

Nearly 6,199 families have been home quarantined after being traced as second and third contacts of patients.

students from the poorest families, without Internet access, are more likely to be denied education

 

 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic was initially described by many as a “great equaliser”, the societal and individual impacts it has on vulnerable sections of the society are not equal. If anything, it has thrust our society’s inequalities into sharp focus.   


Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology in the University of Colombo Dr. Nishara Fernando in an interview with the Daily Mirror shared his insight about how the COVID-19 pandemic has showcased experiences of discrimination resulting in many of the vulnerable populations in the country.  


He emphasised that while there is a high percentage of the Sri Lankan workforce that has the opportunity to work safely from home, that privilege is not accessible to all workers, further marginalising many of whom are already vulnerable to economic and structural inequalities and who have historically experienced marginalisation and discrimination in the workforce.  


“Recognising COVID-19 as a great equaliser has a superficial truth. In fact, both rich and poor are asked to stay home and anyone may contract the virus. But, we cannot call the impacts of it as common because Sri Lanka had always been a country with underlying social and economic inequities that make some populations more vulnerable to the disease than others. Such vulnerable populations are typically those who have experienced a history of discrimination and marginalization,” Dr. Fernando said.  


He was of the view that even before the pandemic, lack of access to resources and opportunity, and lack of access to health care made those individuals and families more vulnerable. During a health crisis such as this, the situation becomes worse in many marginalised communities.  

 


Internet facility a luxury
Despite the technological developments in the world, not everyone can afford smart phones or computers. Even those who have somehow managed to afford a smart phone, have their phone service or internet access repeatedly interrupted due to inability to pay bills. Therefore, the possibility for them to deal via the internet, email, or social media is often limited, said Dr. Fernando.  


“Even among those who may have access to the internet and a smart phone or computer, due to educational marginalisation, many in our communities do not have the technological skills needed to navigate these online activities.”  

“Recognising COVID-19 as a great equaliser has a superficial truth.  In fact, both rich and poor are asked to stay home and anyone may  contract the virus. But, we cannot call the impacts of it as common  because Sri Lanka had always been a country with underlying social and  economic inequities that make some populations more vulnerable to the  disease than others”

 


In the aftermath of the pandemic, schools have been attempting to replace in-person education with online learning. But, has it been effective in Sri Lanka? The dramatic shift to online learning has certainly risked widening educational inequalities. Why the term online learning is far from universal is that students who are poor do not have access to the key tools and experiences they need to attend school online.  


According to a comprehensive survey of mobile use in Sri Lanka by LIRNEasia in 2018, only 40% of households in Sri Lanka with children aged 5-18 would have an internet connection. More than 90% of these connections are accessed through mobile networks using a Smartphone.   


Dr. Fernando opined that all this means that students from the poorest families, without internet access, are more likely to be denied education and ultimately as education is strongly linked to later jobs, income and health, setbacks will most probably last a lifetime.  

 


Home quarantine - not the best option for the poor
Over 11,900 families have been home quarantined in the Western Province, following the recent coronavirus outbreak. Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said that 5,715 families were home quarantined after being identified as first contacts of coronavirus patients.  


Nearly 6,199 families have been home quarantined after being traced as second and third contacts of patients. DIG Ajith Rohana said that 14 Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASP) have been appointed to head a team each to closely supervise the residences of those who have been placed in home quarantine. The Police Spokesman added that action will be taken against those found to be violating the quarantine order under the quarantine law.  


The home quarantine becomes further difficult for people who don’t have basic facilities in the premise. Many poor households in Sri Lanka have just one room or don’t have an exclusive living room and about five people share such accommodations. A considerable number of people living in Colombo also have shared bathrooms, with multiple doors between one’s own room and the bathroom.   


Recently there was a news about a Covid patient who had lived in a three-wheeler for three days awaiting a hospital ambulance. Sociology lecturer Dr. Fernando said that the room structures in the majority of households make it difficult for the people living there to follow the home quarantine guideline. The guideline adds that people in-home quarantine needs to stay away from elderly people, pregnant women and children within the household.  
“Crowded living conditions make them highly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. Many marginalised communities are living in conditions where they are unable to follow COVID-19 public health and safety recommendations during this pandemic. Those who live in shanties are living in unclean facilities, not having access to cleaning supplies, and not being able to properly physically distance from their neighbours,” he said.  

 

Traders queue to obtain curfew permits to conduct their business activities at a Police station in Colombo


Lack of updated data on the communities who really need help
As the government is taking action to create resources for vulnerable communities through relief programmes, the need for assistance to successfully connect people to these resources has become apparent.   


But, does the government have a credible database to know who really needs help during crises in order to implement programmes that actually work? Dr. Fernando stated that unfortunately like many developing countries in the world, Sri Lanka also does not have good data to enable the authorities to build a solid knowledge of how many people are poor, why they are poor, and what interventions could work for them.  


He opined that despite the need to use evidence-based research to inform development decisions, it requires the rigorous collection of data as well as a coordinated system to disseminate it.   


“Data, and especially data of good quality, are essential for the government and other non government institutions to accurately plan and implement relief programmes at a crucial time like this. Data is the first, crucial step to make sure no one is left behind. It will ensure that programmes are timely, well-targeted, and effective for the poor and most vulnerable.”  


Despite the government taking many steps, including offering support to citizens, there remain certain sections of society that have been inadvertently excluded. While these are times when everyone needs to take good care of themselves and interact with others with caution, this is also the time for society to be aware of the needs of the most vulnerable parties and to ensure we do not forget those in need of assistance.  


When contacted by the Daily Mirror, well-known policy think tank Advocata Institute stated that with the second period of curfew and restrictions as low income households will be hit the hardest, once immediate health concerns are addressed, it is essential that the government shifts its focus away from stop-gap measures such as import controls, and address the root cause of these economic ills: consistent fiscal deficits, low growth, and unsustainable borrowing.   


It further said that without hard reform now, it will be impossible to see a meaningful improvement in living standards or an ability to cushion the vulnerable from shocks like this pandemic.     

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

  Comments - 5

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

 
  • Professor Prianka Seneviratne Thursday, 05 November 2020 12:35 PM

    Well done Ms. Fonseka for highlighting these issues and I hope that the lawmakers and bureaucrats read your article and act. I noted that your article is the only report among the 8 other items reported on 5 November 2020. Sadly, your newspaper and the Sri Lankan media report more about the numbers of people infected, charged for violating curfew, arrested for not wearing a mask. They highlight irrelevant and silly comments by the Minister of Health who is offering to dive into the ocean to prevent infection. Those that are detected with the virus strain are referred to as "persons caught or found with the virus" in the same tone as someone caught with heroine. I believe that readers are not interested in knowing the daily numbers of infected persons. They would like to know how and if they can receive assistance from the state if they and their families are infected and quarantined. Who can they call? How long will it take to get help?, etc.

    Esther Cohen, Europe Thursday, 05 November 2020 02:58 PM

    The DM only published comments about the health minister diving into the sea. They never published comments (of myself for instance)about the far more important issues the health minister stated in the same article about the amount of tests and final rites.

    Adam Speak Thursday, 05 November 2020 04:12 PM

    Madam Hats off to your in-depth knowledge and reporting on the effects to poor people in Sri Lanka. Particularly, thanks to your research and analysis to highlight the plight of vulnerable lot due to lockdowns.

    Esther Cohen, Europe Thursday, 05 November 2020 07:19 PM

    Yes, I agree. A very good article which gives a vivant, realistic view of what Covid 19 really means for normal, vulnerable people in daily life. My heart goes out to all Srilankans!

    Percy SG Thursday, 05 November 2020 06:57 PM

    And the ever so efficient SIG ANIT ROHANA said that ALL persons don't have to go to the Pharmacy and can order online. According to you 60% don't have internet access or Computer literacy, so are they supposed to die without there medication? Also, there was a huge propaganda saying that government hospital pharmacies will deliver the required medication to the patients residence, what a joke? As if they have an accurate database of all the patients correctly? Its all about sending people from pillar to post.


Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment




The virus may be spreading much faster than official data suggest

The daily case reports from the Epidemiology Unit are the only data we have t

Credentials of official raise controversy

Amila Ishan Kankanamge, the Government appointed non-Executive Director to Mo

How the SLAF killed the LTTE’s “Smiling Cobra” in an air strike

More than eleven years have passed since the war between the Sri Lankan Armed

Sri Lanka in CT Level 3, health experts

As Sri Lanka witnessed the highest number of deaths in a single day and with

See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.