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Most people have experienced a drop in income. They will need food support soon.
BRAC has carried out a rapid assessment of food and income security in 8 (out of 10) countries outside of Bangladesh where BRAC has been implementing development and humanitarian programmes in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The aim of the assessment was to generate a quick overview of the food and income situation of the population served by BRAC, with the emphasis placed on gathering information as quickly as possible.
To achieve this, BRAC designed a short and structured questionnaire designed to be conducted via phone interviews that lasted no more than 10 minutes. Participants were selected by BRAC’s monitoring teams in each country who compiled the contact information of different programme stakeholders. The sample included individuals who work as community agents or volunteers within BRAC programmes as well as programme participants.
Samples were drawn randomly from these lists and 10,19 respondents were interviewed by phone between 1-2 April.
The vast majority of respondents have experienced a drop in income, whether it is by a little or a lot.
Figure 1. The effect of COVID-19 on regular sources of income
 The numbers in the graph are the actual number of respondents, not percentage. This is to avoid drawing any strong conclusion, especially for countries with a small sample.
74 respondents in Uganda and the Philippines reported either a complete loss of income or a significant reduction. In Afghanistan, which has experienced the lowest impact on income overall, 69 respondents had suffered from some form of income reduction.
Residents whose governments have ordered a total lockdown are struggling to make a living.
For example, a complete loss of income was reported by 36 Ugandan respondents, where businesses employing informal workers were closed and people’s movements restricted based on presidential directives.
On the other hand, less than 10 residents in both Sierra Leone and Tanzania, countries who have less reported cases, experienced total loss of income.
Casual workers, farmers and small business owners are the most affected.
91% of agricultural workers and 93% of casual workers experienced some sort of loss of income. 86% of those working at small businesses suffered similarly.
Contrast this with respondents on salaried contracts, 67% of whom experienced little or no effect on their income.
If this situation persists, people believe they will need food more than any other type of support.
86% of respondents believe they will need food support the most if they continue to be on lockdown.
Healthcare (51%), hygiene products (29%) and loan services (25%) were the other types of support respondents highlighted.
People are already having to reduce the frequency and size of their meals.
Figure 2. Change in frequency of meal or amount of food consumption
The majority of respondents in the Philippines, Uganda and Liberia said they have reduced either the frequency or the amount of food they are consuming.
There are differing reasons for this depending on the local context. In Uganda, though food markets are still open, the restrictions on private transport has limited people’s access to food products and other basic needs.
Liberia, on the other hand, is prone to food insecurity since the country largely relies on imported food.
People’s food security varies hugely across BRAC’s countries of operation.
Although 60% of the respondents in Sierra Leone have either reduced food consumption by a little or not at all, 65% of them have food stocks that will last less than a week. Respondents in Tanzania also show a similar pattern.
Among the respondents from Afghanistan, 40% have reduced food consumption by a little and have more food in stock when compared with other countries.
Unsurprisingly, households who mainly produce their own food are better stocked than those who either purchase or rely on alternatives. The difference is more prominent in Uganda, Myanmar and Tanzania. For example, those who produce their own food in Uganda have reported having food stocks that can last for 36 days (on average), which is twice the number of days reported by the other respondents who purchase food elsewhere.
Female-headed houses have greater food security.
Female headed households reported food stocks that can last a larger number of days in the Philippines, Myanmar and Uganda. However, the situation could change given that in a couple of weeks the majority of households in these three countries will run out.
Food prices have risen across the board.
A sharp rise in the cost of food was reported almost universally by respondents in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and the Philippines. It seemed to be less prominent in Myanmar, Nepal and Tanzania, though over half of respondents even in those countries also reported spending at least a little bit more.
25% of respondents will not be able to cope if the current situation continues.
We asked respondents what methods or means they will use to cope if the current situation continues in their country. Overall, borrowing was reported by 38% of the respondents, and predominantly by the respondents from the Philippines (92%), Liberia (63%) and Nepal (52%).
Current income was reported frequently in Afghanistan (55%), the Philippines (46%) and Myanmar (43%). The respondents from the Philippines seemed to have more options than respondents in other countries. The respondents in Sierra Leone seem to have the least means to cope, with 61% reporting that they will not be able to cope if the situation continues.
Most respondents felt they had access to public health information.
Over 80% of the respondents across all the countries felt they had access to adequate information.
The rate was the lowest in Sierra Leone where 52% reported having enough information. BRAC International has been using various means – social media, radio messaging, miking or messaging through megaphones, and distribution of information materials – to raise awareness in each country.
Since half of the respondents are BRAC volunteers, who have been engaged by BRAC in information dissemination, we looked at this indicator between them and the programme participants. Overall, 88% of volunteers and 77% of the participants reported having access to enough information. It suggests that the current efforts by the governments and media are probably adequate.
Kazi Eliza Islam is an associate director, monitoring and programme quality, BRAC International.