Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Fighting for work and food, Indonesia’s poorest suffer as the Covid crisis deepens | Global health

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ORNormally every Eid al-Adha, Riki Priyanto’s father would bring home goat or beef from the nearby mosque. The meat had been donated by devotees and distributed to the poor, such as Riki’s family, to celebrate the Islamic day of sacrifice.

His mother cooked goat meat satay for lunch and Riki sat with his three younger brothers in the middle of their 3x3m home in North Jakarta. They would eat the special food together.

But this year is different. Tuesday the house was quiet. This is the first Eid al-Adha that they celebrated without their parents. His mother died eight months ago; and two months ago his father died. Now they are running out of money to live on.

The Covid pandemic and mobility restrictions introduced to halt the spread of the virus have been catastrophic for the poorest in Indonesia. With little financial support available, families face an impossible decision: go out and find what little work is available and risk dying from the virus, or dying at home because they can no longer afford to survive.

Adib Khumaidi, the head of the Indonesian Medical Association’s risk mitigation team, liked Indonesia’s Covid crisis for the survival of the fittest. “From the Covid working group we know that the current fatality rate is 2.6%. That’s a large amount, ”he said.

“If they are exposed to [virus infection] then there is the theory of Charles Darwin; there is a natural selection for survival of the fittest. So if your immunity is good, healthy, you will survive … so the point is that you don’t get sick. “

Riki’s parents died from medical conditions unrelated to Covid. As the eldest, Riki took on the role of his father to earn money for his brothers. But the emergency restrictions have made it all the more difficult.

The slum area of ​​Jakarta. Emergency restrictions have made it difficult for the city’s poor to work. Photographer: Muhammad Zaenuddin / ZUMA Wire / REX / Shutterstock

“My brother and I usually work as porters in electronics stores near here. But then the restriction started and the store closed, ”said the 24-year-old. For financial reasons, Riki and his brother only finished elementary school.

Riki said that he could usually earn around 79,000 rupees ($ 5.4) a week working in the store, not much, but he could buy food and books for his younger sister. Now they have lost that steady income.

This week, President Joko Widodo announced that the emergency restrictions would be extended until July 25 due to the continued increase in Covid-19 transmissions.

While most accept that prevention measures are needed to curb the growing number of cases in Indonesia, human rights activists fear that, given the lack of financial support, the decision will make life even more difficult for the poorest and most vulnerable.

‘We have children to feed’

The pandemic has raised Indonesia’s poverty rate to 10.19%, the highest level since March 2017. Last year, Indonesian statistics recorded that the number of people living below the poverty line had reached 27.55 million in September 2020, compared to 24.79 million the previous year.

“The rich can stay in their houses depending on their monthly income. But we have to go out to earn money every day. If we don’t do that, then our family members who are still healthy will starve, ”said Eni Rochayati, coordinator of the Jakarta Urban Poor Network.

“Staying home, wearing masks, social distancing, all of this wouldn’t work if we were starving. We do not live alone. We have families, children to feed, ”Eni said.

The government uses a myriad of terms – period of restrictions on public activity and large-scale social restrictions – to avoid using the word “lockdown,” said Asfinawati, director of Jakarta Legal Aid. Many suspect that the government is doing it to avoid having to provide greater social support, which is an obligation under the country’s law on health quarantine.

On social media, videos and photos of officers forcing food vendors to close their stalls have gone viral in recent weeks.

A woman washes clothes near the river in a slum area in Palembang
A woman washes clothes near the river in a poor neighborhood in Palembang. Photograph: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

A food vendor in Jakarta, Adi Paharoni, 30, said he has argued with officials from the Jakarta Public Order Agency several times, after they asked him to close his small food stall due to restrictions, that They only allow sellers to stay open at certain times of the day, as long as they comply with strict sanitary measures. He usually sells roast chicken and fish in his shop from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

“I told the officers that I follow all the health protocols. I told them that if they closed my position, how would I get the money to feed my family, “Adi said. “If they ever close mine today, I’ll open again tomorrow. I do not mind. I have to earn money. I can’t trust the government. “

On July 17, Adi’s father-in-law, who had been battling tuberculosis for years, died alongside Adi, inside a bajaj, a motorized three-wheeler, as they drove to the hospital to seek medical help.

“Now I have eight people to feed; my wife and children, my mother-in-law and my sister’s three brothers, ”Adi said. “This is very difficult, but I have no choice but to fight so that we can all live.”

This week, Jokowi said that an additional 55.21 trillion rupees would be allocated to the social protection budget.

Indonesia’s Covid assistance programs have been embroiled in corruption allegations.

Eni said that since the emergency restriction was implemented, most people have not received any social assistance from the government. Last year some of them received social assistance, but it was not as much as promised.

“[The ] the government said we would get 300,000 rupees, but last year we only received around 120,000 rupees, “he said. “When we receive it we still have to share it with other neighbors who do not receive it.”

Activists suspect that there are many unrecorded Covid deaths among the urban poor, who cannot afford to get tested.

‘They didn’t just die from Covid. They died of poverty ‘

Across the country, gender minority groups are also becoming more vulnerable, especially where their situation intersects with poverty. On July 4, a friend who hadn’t heard from her in three days found the body of Dina, a transgender woman, in her bed in Yogyakarta. 55-year-old Dina died alone from Covid without receiving medical help.

Rully Malay, a trans activist, said they had to wait eight hours before an ambulance arrived to take Dina to the cemetery.

Dina generally sold roasted corn on the streets, but after emergency restrictions, she was struggling to make ends meet.

Rully said that since the beginning of the pandemic, 11 trans women have died from Covid. His community did not receive social assistance from the government, for administrative reasons; most of them do not have ID cards and do not come from Yogyakarta.

“They didn’t just die from Covid. They died of poverty. They couldn’t access food, medicine or help, ”Rully said. “Most of us are in a similar condition. We have nothing else left to help each other. “

Riki also depends on family and neighbors to survive. He walks around your neighborhood asking for odd jobs. “Sometimes I help them carry water to their houses. Clean someone’s motorcycles. Sometimes I get 15,000 rupees a day, but sometimes I get nothing at all. “

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