COVID-19 Op-ed

Ensuring Food Security for “Invisible Communities” during the Covid-19 pandemic

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Ruthra Mary
Ramachandran
Student of Southeast Asian Studies,
Department of Southeast Asian Studies
Faculty of Arts and
Social Science, University Malaya

The continuous rise of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia has forced
the Government to keep extending the movement control order (MCO). While we
are maintaining social distancing in comfort  to fight the virus, let’s
not forget many “invisible communities” are not only at great risk of
contracting COVID-19 but worse than that; concurrently being forced to endure
hunger during this nationwide lockdown. Thus, many NGOs’ have ramped up their
efforts to carry out food relief programs.Who are these invisible
communities?
The ‘invisible communities’ refers to
certain group of people in the society who have been separated or
systematically excluded from the majority of the public. This generally
includes migrant workers, refugees, stateless people and indigenous
community. The reason why they are described as such is because these people
exist in a country without any proper identification given to them. Thus,
they often get left out altogether from any vital legal services, and are
more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.In most countries, government
assistance, even before Covid-19, has largely been prioritized the needs and
welfare of citizens. Malaysia is no different. Invisible communities have
been hit hard than any other vulnerable groups mainly because they are
voiceless, estranged, and most are undocumented, making them most at risk in
times of national crisis.Assessments of the plight of migrant workers have
long been contested in Malaysia, however an ISEAS report stated that Malaysia
houses 3.85 to 5.3 million migrants in 2018, including undocumented illegal
workers while NGO estimates almost 8 million (Leng, 2018). This is also true for
stateless peoples. Many of whom have been in the country for years yet have
no meaningful access to government services and aid. Whereas, the indigenous
peoples were also being overlooked due to their estrangement from mainstream
communities. However they were at least put under the surveillance of a
specially consigned government department. (“Making the invisible visible: Faces of
poverty in Malaysia,” 2020
)How the pandemic does affect the food security
of invisible communities?
Food security isn’t
just about putting food on the table. Food security depends principally on
three variables: availability of food, access to food and a nutritious diet,
and proper use of food to ensure maximal nutrition and hygiene ( US,2005).
The surge of Covid-19 has extended the MCO as well as restricted all level of
business sectors from operating. This has seriously hampered the source of
income for members of invisible communities, who are mostly daily wagers or
odd job workers. Being out of jobs and having no money to buy food supply in
bulk, they suffer of hunger and lack of access to food. Moreover, considering
the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines (MDG) by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the
cost of preparing nutritious meals at home is between RM756.30 and RM1,153.50
per month, depending on location. This is around the poverty line income
(PLI), meaning that poor households would need to spend their entire monthly
income appropriately in order to attain required nutrition on a daily basis.
In this scenario, it is even harder for invisible communities to comply.In
terms of food availability, it is easier for authorities to trace normal food
supply chain and make sure of the supplies reach mainstream sellers. However,
according to Dr Sarena Che Omar (senior research associate, Khazanah Research
Institute), for some consumers such as undocumented workers, their food
supply chain is invisible. In other words, they may source their food
differently than others such as from the nearby sundry shop or public market
(the cheapest source of food available) and it may be disrupted due to the
lockdown which made them even more vulnerable to hunger.Sustainable and
rights-based solutions for Invisible community

  1. Government, in partnership with the private sector should as well
    as the media and the NGOs need to put more attention towards the invisible
    community. This allows for thinking through initiatives that can build a
    collective sustainable approach to manage the social effects of the crisis on
    these people which will continue long after any MCO is lifted, and to
    encourage that resources are spent to go beyond immediate relief to address
    underlying problems.
  2. Approaches to foster inclusiveness
    in the vulnerability assessment and policy making. The International Labour
    Organization (ILO) estimates that foreign workers comprise a third of
    Malaysia’s workforce. As foreigners, they are the largest group in terms of
    numbers of excluded population not included in the poverty assessments within
    Malaysia(“Making the invisible
    visible: Faces of poverty in Malaysia,” 2020
    ). Likewise,
    citizenship issues and lack of legal documents have caused many invisible
    communities such as the refugees and indigenous communities are unable to
    access social safety net.
  3. There is a need for a clear,
    inclusive, centrally designed and nationally applied definition of
    eligibility for social protection of assistance in order to create inclusive
    policies that is conscious of the vulnerabilities of both visible and
    invisible consumers.
  4. Currently, Malaysia is facing
    major challenges in setting up a reliable and responsive food security and
    nutrition information system (relating to the invisible community due to
    their invisible consumption), which could be used as an effective early
    warning system and to inform the design of targetted social assistance. Thus,
    more emphasis should be given for an integrated food security and nutrition
    monitoring system, which also must incorporate evidence-based and
    disaggregated.

Invisible communities are already in the
verge of food insecurity; now they are already experiencing to hunger and
malnutrition due to the lockdown and disruptions triggered by the Covid-19 in
Malaysia. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United
Nations (FAO), hunger is considered a violation of human dignity.
 Everyone, despite of one’s legal, social and economic status, deserves
equal right to food and nutrition. Thus, all countries including Malaysia
should take serious efforts in fulfilling the obligation to create an enabling
environment within which Invisible people are able to enjoy their right to
healthy food and nutrition, whether during a crisis or
not.References

  1. Leng,
    L. H.-A. a. K. Y. ( 2018). Counting Migrant Workers in Malaysia: A Needlessly
    Persisting Conundrum. PERSPECTIVE, 25(2018), 11. https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2018_25@50.pdf
  2. Making the invisible visible: Faces of poverty in Malaysia. (2020,
    4 Aoril). Malaysiakini. https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/518784?fbclid=IwAR1SJkqW1VwR-hRWOaepXjma9golmHIjkZpxrzgXvzksVVyRKNji8j0t4n8#.XonjrQncCGQ.facebook
  3. Nutrition, N. C. C. o. F. a. (2010). Malaysian Dietary
    Guidelines
    . Malaysia: Technical Working Group on Nutritional
    Guidelines (for National Coordinating Committee on Food and Nutrition) Retrieved
    from http://dg.cnsoc.org/upload/affix/20140818104029708.pdf.
  4. Cromwell, E and N Kyegombe (2005) Food security options in Malawi:
    good neighbours make good friends? Country Food Security Options Paper No. 2,
    Forum for Food Security in Southern Africa https://www.odi.org/projects/1066-forum-food-security-southern-africa
  5. US Agency for International Development. Food aid
    and food security policy paper
    . Washington, DC: USAID,
    1995. www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/ffp/pnabu219.pdf(accessed
    20 Sep 2005).
  6. (FAO), F. a. A. O. o. t. U. N. Food- A
    fundamental Human Right. Focus. from http://www.fao.org/FOCUS/E/rightfood/right2.htm

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