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Presbyterian Disaster Assistance grants $20,000 to COVID response in India

Project will focus on vulnerable communities in nation seeing catastrophic rise in cases, deaths

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

COVID-19 lockdowns have had a major impact on the lives of rural and tribal people in India. BIRDS, a rural development organization, has distributed food and other items with help from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has approved a $20,000 grant for COVID-19 response in India.

While the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be subsiding in most parts of the United States, India is experiencing a catastrophic surge in the virus. On Friday, The Associated Press reported 386,452 new cases in India and 3,498 new deaths. India’s total of 18.7 million reported cases since the pandemic began places it second to only the United States in total infections.

The PDA-funded project — Prevention, Protection, Rehabilitation and Relief services for people suffering from COVID-19 second wave pandemic through interventions — will be in conjunction with  BIRDS, (BharAti Integrated Rural Development Society), a grassroots volunteer organization that partnered with the Presbyterian Hunger Program last year. They will focus on vulnerable communities in rural and urban areas in two states in southeastern India: Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The primary activities will be distribution of safety protective gear, food, an awareness and education campaign, and respectful cremations.

Click here to support PDA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in India

All the areas the project will work in have been hit hard by the pandemic since 2020, with impacts reverberating well beyond illness and death.

“In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh there is [a] shortage of beds and oxygen for the COVID patients,” the grant proposal states. “Many of them died with lack of services in government,” and they could not afford the expense of a private hospital.

The proposal goes on to say that lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus “had a huge impact on the lives of the rural and tribal people of the State, whose main livelihood was either daily wage labor or selling of local produce.” Particularly hard hit were “low-income community grocery stores and street vendors.”

BIRDS staff distributes food and sanitary kits in India with previous assistance from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. (Photo courtesy of BIRDS)

Paul Raja Rao, Director of BIRDS, said, “The poor are always becoming poorer, their suffering starts from birth to death! As people of untouchable, last and least, born with hunger, discrimination, poverty, insufficiency, no assets, denial of rights, no dignity. It is proven even during COVID-19 this untouchability did not stop and continues; even the dead bodies are not respected with proper funerals. Suffered as sick (without their knowledge become COVID positives) and lack of money and wealth, better treatment is denied and dead.

“So BIRDS-PDA (PCUSA) will revert the situation with sufficient food, medicines, decent treatment and provide socio-economical and legal support with decent life to the people who are at the edge (Dalits, the lowest caste in the caste system) with preventive measures to overcome COVID-19 to the daily wage earners, unemployed (due to lockdown) and migrant laborers.”

The proposal projects outcomes including a broad understanding of and participation in activities to prevent the spread of the virus, such as mask wearing and hand washing, and survival of people in vulnerable communities through food distribution and other support.

India is dealing with a deadly resurgence of COVID-19 that has led to a shortage of hospital beds and oxygen and record-breaking case counts of more than 300,000 a day. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

“The suffering we are witnessing in India is heartbreaking,” PDA Director the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus said. “In the midst of continuing challenges with systemic poverty and the aftermath of disasters, the vulnerability of the health care system and the catastrophic increase in COVID infections and serious illnesses is having a staggering and tragic impact. That this is happening to a country that has led the world in production of vaccines from which many of us here in the US and the global North have benefited is just wrong and exposes a critical and shameful lack of global commitment to vaccine equity.

“We are grateful to have longstanding partners in India and global partnerships that have stepped up to address this humanitarian crisis. And we are grateful for gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing and designated gifts to support our response to COVID, that are enabling us to come alongside our partners to address the emergent needs. But there is much more to be done, and we are committed to continuing to engage both humanitarian and advocacy efforts in supporting healing and long-term resiliency in the region.”

In addition to supporting PDA’s response to the crisis in India financially, PDA is lifting up an action alert from its fellow Compassion, Peace & Justice ministry the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness in Washington D.C., who called for waiving intellectual property rules to allow for wider production of COVID-19 vaccines.

The PDA funded project is expected to be active from May to December of this year.

Give to One Great Hour of Sharing to enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to respond quickly to catastrophic events.

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