COVID-19 has had far-reaching economic impact, producing the deepest global recession in decades and negatively affecting employment, earnings, production, and trade. In April 2020, nearly a third of the global population was on lockdown, limiting the ability to work and transact, both locally and internationally.
To help inform Viamo’s own COVID-19 response and the response of our partners, we teamed up with researchers from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine to poll our own 3-2-1 Service callers about their knowledge of the virus and impact of COVID-19 on their livelihoods. The innovation here is eliminating all airtime costs; we ask 3-2-1 Service callers if they would like to participate in the survey as part of their regular toll-free call. To keep the automated voice survey short, staff from Tulane and Viamo developed 12 separate questionnaires, each addressing a specific COVID-related topic (knowledge of COVID-19; attitudes towards the pandemic; preventive behaviors; motivation, impact on food security, income, mental health, etc.). We implemented the surveys in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Madagascar, Malawi, and Rwanda.
The first wave of results, conducted in May 2020 involved over 1,500 respondents for each of the 12 questionnaires. The responses provide crucial data that will help inform our response and the response of our partners. They also demonstrate the value of the 3-2-1 Service to provide rapid, reliable, low-cost data on our callers’ experiences during the pandemic. We present here key findings from Wave 1 on two topic areas: economic impacts and food security.
1) COVID-19 has hit households’ finances significantly. 40% claim minor to major reductions in income across the five countries. The causes are varied; 38% of respondents report they are unable to go out to make a living, while others report that they are working less (18%), or that their business or farm has been negatively affected (15%). Another 19% report that they have lost their jobs.
Fig 1: Percentage distribution of respondents changes in household income as a result of COVID-19
2) The food security situation is alarming. 27% of the population surveyed had to reduce portion sizes and 22% had to skip meals more than once in the last 7 days. This points to nearly a quarter of households surveyed struggling to meet the most basic needs – and likely pointing to negative consequences in terms of health, education and well-being.
Fig 2: Percentage distribution of respondents reporting that they or someone in their household has had to reduce the number of meals in a day due to a lack of food or money
3) Access to basic supplies such as food and soap is a serious issue. 53% of households report challenges. The main causes appear to be elevated item prices (44%) and item availability (35%), as opposed to an inability to get to the market (10%) or fear of contagion (12%).
Fig 3: Percentage of respondents experiencing difficulties obtaining essential products (soap, food)
4) The potential impact of lost income is considerable. 32% of respondents indicated that if they were to lose all income they would only have the ability to pay for essentials like food and rent for less than one week. Another 34% indicated that they have less than one month of savings to fall back on. This has important implications for how long a lock-down can be sustained.
Fig 4: Length of time that respondents would be able to pay for essentials if all income was lost
5) The majority of households do not have savings for emergencies. 63% indicate that they do not have savings, further revealing the treacherous position faced by households during the pandemic.
Fig 5: Percentage of respondents who have money put aside for emergencies
We want to partner with organizations that are interested in increasing the depth and scale of this data collection exercise, as well as organizations that can help us take action on some of the challenges identified by these surveys. Thank you in advance for your partnership and we look forward to sharing more highlights from the 3-2-1 COVID-19 Survey soon.
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