The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has hit India particularly hard. Between April and June 2020, gross domestic product shrank by 23.9 per cent.1 In addition, 24 million children2 are impacted by floods, drought, cyclones and other hazards that are exacerbating underlying vulnerabilities.
Leveraging its field presence in India, UNICEF's humanitarian strategy focuses on building resilient systems to support preparedness and response, including for vulnerable people in slums and migrant families. Key activities include supporting risk communication and community engagement; facilitating the continuity of essential health and nutrition services; strengthening infection prevention and control in health facilities; ensuring access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services; strengthening disaster risk management systems and civil society capacities; and supporting the continuity of education, child protection, gender-based violence and social protection services.
UNICEF is requesting US$53.9 million to assist 78 million people, including 44 million children, in India.
HUMANITARIAN SITUATION AND NEEDS
The number of COVID-19 infections in India is among the highest globally, and the country is also experiencing serious socio-economic impacts from the pandemic. By the second quarter of 2020, India's gross domestic product had shrunk by 23.9 per cent7 – the highest economic contraction since independence. An estimated 122 million workers – three quarters of them in the informal sector – have lost their jobs.8 COVID-19 has led to the highest mass economic migration in 70 years and has disrupted the delivery and quality of essential health, nutrition, education and child protection services. In the first weeks of the pandemic, reports of violence against children increased by 50 per cent.9 Access to child protection services remains limited across the country.
India is also prone to multiple hazards, including climate-related disasters. Over the past decade, the number of droughts has nearly doubled and there has been a sharp rise in the number of floods.10 Between 2010 and 2020, 30 million people were impacted by floods and 4.5 million people were impacted by cyclones, on average every year. In addition, the country is affected by a wide range of geophysical hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides.
The socio-economic impacts of these and other crises – including the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and civil strife – can push vulnerable families into extreme poverty, giving rise to distress, mental health challenges and violence, abuse and exploitation of girls and boys.
Disasters can lead to food and water shortages and polluted air, with related impacts on children's health, and flooding can destroy schools and impede learning.
School closures related to COVID-19 containment measures have affected 286 million children who were enrolled in schools before the crisis.12 The digital divide in India is significant: Only 24 per cent of households have access to the Internet for remote learning.13 Restrictive gender norms may prevent girls, including adolescents, from engaging in and benefiting from crisis preparedness and response. Children and adolescents with disabilities are also at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions and difficulties maintaining social distancing. While the Government has a strong capacity for evacuations and immediate response, humanitarian assistance remains essential to strengthening systems for mitigating, preparing for and responding to emergencies.