COVID-19 Crisis and the informal sector in Global south: Associated LivelihoodChallenges and Policy recommendations
By Dr. Emmanuel J. Munishi, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, CBE
This article is primarily concerned with the way in which COVID-19 has threatened and continues to threaten livelihoods of the urban based informal vendors in the global south and recommends policy alternatives to empower the vendors and support them to improve their health and economic conditions. As may be clear to many of us, COVID-19 has massively shrunken socio economic activities including but not limited to a decline in tourism and hospitality, transport as well as the general service industry down to the livelihoods of vulnerable groups worldwide. Candidly speaking, the Informal sector especially in the urban setting of global south is most likely to be exposed to the disease and its devastating livelihood effects more severely compared to other sectors. Indeed, while the vendors are compelled to operate in congested environment likely to expose them to the disease, initiatives aimed at preventing and controlling the pandemic such as social distancing, isolations and lock downs are said to negatively jeopardise the vending business thus infuriating their livelihood.
Against the foregoing background, this article primarily, targets to ascertain specific ways in which COVID-19 threatens urban informal sector and the street vending in particular as well as factors that further expose the sub-sector and the vendors in particular to these threats thus positioning ourselves in a better place to recommend relevant policy interventions.
To start with, vendors are at a high risk of contracting the disease by their virtue of working in congested places, use of public transport and living and working in informal places where hygiene is significantly compromised and there hardly exists Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Vendors are also confronted by financial inability to access Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), inadequate information about Covid-19, lack of social protection and health insurance in particular as well as informal status that disadvantages the street vendors from acquiring community health support.
Moreover, Covid-19 control measures such as lock downs and social distancing have significantly limited the vendors sales and profitability in a number of ways. Illegal status of the vendors limits them from enjoying the economic stimulus that would be enjoyed by their counterpart in the formal sector. Accordingly, a number of policy recommendations are made. Firstly, PPE should be made available to the vendors, social safety nets enjoyed by the formal sector traders should also be extended to the vendors.
Accordingly, the following policy recommendations are made as for alleviating threats posed by the Covdi-19 pandemic on street vending. One is the improvement of hygiene status at vendors’ working places and urban informal settlements. This is because vendors naturally work in congested places. Another is a recommendation related to the improvement of hygiene and PPE utilisation status in public transport that puts the vendors in the risk of contracting the disease. Ensure access to social protection and health insurance among the vendors as lack of social protection and health insurance in particular has been earmarked to render the vendors powerless in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic. Ensuring access to adequate and relevant information related to Covid-19 as it has been confirmed that vendors have limited access to Covid-19 related information notably what is the virus and how it spreads. Ensuring accessibility of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the vendors as vendors have been found to be at the higher risk of contracting the disease due to the factors related to their inability to access PPE such as genuine face masks, sanitizers, hand washing soap and/or cleanness and fumigations services owing to their looming financial constraints. Extensions of relevant economic stimulus and programmes to informal sectors: such as financial bailout packages regardless of their lack of legal recognition.
Finally, all mitigation strategies aimed at supporting the informal sector workers should be gender sensitive. This means that they should be designed in such a manner that they will not discriminate against people based on their sexes, health, financial and orientation status.