NITI Aayog and the State Governments are focusing on the SDGs and inclusive Rural Development through GPDP as a promising means of inclusive planning at the Panchayat level. In this regards, UNICEF and Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra have partnered in mobilizing people in the Panchayats of 8 Aspirational Districts in 2019. But due to the advent of the global pandemic in the beginning of 2020 and the second wave in 2021 in India.. Considering the challenges faced by the people in the rural areas and the economic, health and distribution crisis during the pandemic, the context of localizing SDGs has gain its momentum in the direction of preparedness of the grassroots against COVID-19 and for that matter any such crisis in the future.
Every crisis bring an opportunity to innovate, reconstruct, rethink and re-organize the resources and models of governance and development. Hence, as a merger of intentions, UNICEF stepped forward in partnership with Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra, Lucknow to address this issue to assess the status of preparedness against COVID-19. For this purpose, an assessment was done for 8 of the Panchayats in 8 Aspirational districts and 2 Panchayats from a Non-Aspirational district of Uttar Pradesh.
For the purpose, an assessment and response had been coordinated in the 10 panchayats in the Aspirational dictricts - Bahraich, Balrampur, Chandauli, Sonbhadra, Shrawasti, Siddhartnagar, Chitrakoot, Fatehpur and Barabanki (non-Aspirational district), based on the 8 point-60 indicators MoPR Checklist on the Preparedness of Panchayats against COVID-19. This report highlights the actions taken on ground in response to the global pandemic from January till March 2021.
COMMUNITY PREPAREDNESS AGAINST COVID-19
Gaps in preparedness at community level majorly include-
Inactive committees in most of the GPs
Lack of GP level planning on measures to prepare against pandemic
Lack of capacity of the GPs in planning and information gathering
Lack of rumor control measures
Defunct vigilance team due to lack of awareness/training support
Quarantine centers lack of basic amenities
Lack of emergency vehicle in GPs
Low intake of workers in MGNREGA
Poor participation & ownership of the community
Defunct regular health and sanitation services
Awareness initiatives taken to stimulate community response
Gram Panchayat Chilouki & Chandwara in Barabanki; Jogia in Sidharthnagar, and Ekauna Dehat in Shravasti have stepped up in enforcing social distancing, community sanitation services, periodic sanitization of streets, testing, home quarantine and vaccination. During second wave, these GPs have reformed their vigilance team at community level and have been successful in enforcing COVID appropriate behavior and home isolation for those who are tested positive or show related symptoms.
Sahbhagi Shikshan Kendra mobilized PRI members in 10 gram panchayats of the 8 aspirational districts of Uttar Pradesh. Followed by series of meetings and orientation sessions of the PRI members to build their knowledge and capacity to understand the gaps and provide handholding in planning and execution. The actions thus taken by the gram panchayats led to orientation and capacity building of the vigilance team and publish their details for public information. The actions include enforcing social distancing behaviour, organizing awareness campaign to promote testing and vaccination. Regular sanitary work and disinfecting streets began to take place with community participation.
Need for action
Most of the GPs in the aspirational districts were found to be vulnerable to the impact. Following measured are recommended to address the gaps and prepare for the ongoing as well as the upcoming threats.
Health and Sanitation Committee needs to be formed or trained about the responsibilities and support. Inactive committees leave a void in responsibilities to be taken care of.
Absence of volunteers cause delayed services and most of the time, no precautionary measures are enforced to protect the healthy population from risks.
Lack of participation of other groups in planning and actions leads to lack of community support in such initiatives. Lack of participation has been observed in 7 out the 10 Panchayats i.e in all the Panchayats of Aspirational Districts.
Committees lack planning of health and sanitation activities. Therefore, no initiatives sustain for long enough to produce a considerable impact thus further reduces community support. Committees need to be trained for routine activities and crisis planning.
Awareness among community related to COVID-19 precautions is poor that needs to be addressed not only about the basic facts but also on sociological aspects like social stigma, caste and class discrimination etc.
The major gap is the absence of genuine leadership and people’s unity to demand. Unawareness about provisions entitled to the people is also a major challenge that leads to their exploitation. There is a dire need of effective information dissemination in the rural areas.
The Committees are inactive and the improper division of responsibilities leads to diffused efforts by Pradhan.
Active members of the community are not mobilized and provided sincere guidance on the actions
Lack of pre-planned actions. Which led to inadequate quarantine facilities and lack of resources at the time when required.
Basic health infrastructure needs to be revamped and meanwhile mobile healthcare services could be provided for better timely access for testing and emergency medications.
Inactive health committee led to poor maintenance for routine services and monitoring of actions taken.
Poor coordination with the line departments to ensure support for migrants is the prime cause of absence of support to the people in need during crisis.
People are not aware of the services and support they are entitles to.
SHGs and other groups are not involved in the actions and planning due to which number of families remain aloof from the support services.
The actions are not women and child friendly due to lack of participation.
Lack of transport facility during medical emergencies.
Basic health and sanitation services are not satisfactory in the Panchayats. Fumigation, Solid waste collection and proper disposal, regular drains cleaning and sewage maintenance, and treatment of stagnant water areas like ponds and pits are the necessary activities to be done and ensured for better public health and sanitation services.
Government relief measures entitles to the people in distress did not reach the beneficiaries because of poor coordination and improper management of committees. Most of the active members have migrated for work. Absence of active members leaves panchayat with no surety over implementation.
Health and Sanitation Committee and Disaster Response committee needs to be reformed with members from all sections of community who could be trained and prepared for response.
Some of these challenges are common to most of the gram panchayats that make them highly vulnerable. A system approach in strengthening gram panchayats is the need of the hour to realize their true potential.