Covid-19 : the impact across South Asia

Covid-19 has been the main story of the past three months. As countries slowly emerge from different levels of lock down and restriction, the long term impact is becoming clearer. In early June the death rates due to the virus were lower than had been feared, but they have doubled in the last two weeks and are continuing to rise, except in Bhutan and Sri Lanka. But economies – and people – have been devastated. India’s lock down was praised for its ‘100% strictness’, but scientists there have warned that ‘the disruption of the livelihood of the entire bottom half of the population may overtake lives saved due to slowing of Covid-19 progress’. 

‘Death and despair as migrants flee cities’ was the headline of a BBC video that is still heartrending to watch (https://bbc. in/2Xn7Ubu 24th May 2020)

In Pakistan, with all schools closed, a report said that 60% of children at home were reported to be ‘unengaged’, 22% taught by their parents, and 15% receiving instruction material from their schools.

For Nepal this was to be the year of ‘Visit Nepal 2020’and its cancellation means the loss of tourists, particularly from China. Sri Lanka was praised for its swift and effective response (9th best in the world).

Governments have attempted to coordinate a response to the pandemic through the regional organisation SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation), with contributions to a common fund.

Christian responses have had two areas of focus

1. Providing help to those in need.

As cities closed down, people lost their jobs and their livelihood. When you live on daily wages, if you stop work there is nothing to fall back on. For example Essa Mauji, in the Sindh area of Pakistan, is ‘a 30 year old mother of four children, the sole breadwinner in her family. She is a daily wager but since the coronavirus emergency she is not able to earn any living.’ (Report from Pakistan Partnership Initiative).

Churches and organisations have been distributing meals or food supplies, which have literally saved lives.

 In rural areas too, poor communities have suffered. Kachhwa Christian Hospital, like others in the Emmanuel Hospital Association, had already been working closely with the downtrodden Musahar community and was able to provide supplies for over 1100 families.

Along with many others, we appealed for funds for this work and Concern readers gave over £14,000, for which we thank God and all of you. We were able to distribute to Kachhwa Christian Hospital, Pakistan Partnership Initiative, National Mission Commission of Nepal and a few others.(contact us if you would like a full report).

2. Continuing to support their members while in isolation

While many churches have been able to broadcast sermons or live stream their services, many church members do not have access to the internet or smartphones. Some pastors and their leadership teams have been making regular phone calls to encourage and pray with their members. Others have used ingenious combinations of ‘Mobile phone, Whatsapp, speakers, Anker speaker, voice receiver, use of apps and laptop for online fellowship’.

It’s not only churches. Vikas Khanna, an Indian born Michelin-starred chef in New York, has provided literally millions of meals to poor people suffering under the coronavirus lock down in India, by mobilising nationwide commercial and government organisations. In Surat, Gujarat, many homes have joined a scheme to donate a few chapatis each day. Volunteers pick them up and they are distributed with hot meals to those who need them.

‘One Sound One Hope’

On Pentecost Sunday (31st May) the UCPI movement (United Christian Prayer for India) organised ‘One Sound One Hope’, twenty minutes of ‘United Prayer for the Nation’. At 12 noon a bell was sounded (in homes and on phones), people sang ‘How Great Thou Art’ in many languages, and then prayed (as in 1 Chron 7.14), with careful guidance through prayer points, for the ‘Sevenfold Healing of the Nation – physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, relationships, societal, the land (based on Genesis 2 and 3). The organisers report that nearly 1 million, from at least 11 languages, joined in through social media. They estimate that as many as ten times that number prayed through their churches, or watched on 7 Christian TV channels. Churches are being encourage to use the video every Sunday to help their members pray for the nation, in preparation for an important national holiday on 2nd October, when they will invite local government officials and pray for them.

Link to video