Several potential measures that can be taken to manage COVID-19 pandemic exist. The measures include the lockdown that aims at restricting freedom of movement of people to limit the spread of COVID-19. Vaccinate people to protect everyone, however, it takes time to develop a vaccine. Wait until nearly everyone is infected and immunity developed (herd immunity method).

Government of Papua New Guinea (GoPNG) adopted the lockdown strategy, which was also implemented by governments of most countries. Before adopting the strategy, it important to consider its impact on livelihoods of people, especially those that are vulnerable. In a research by Eugene Ezebilo of PNG National Research Institute (PNG NRI) on the impact of lockdown on livelihoods of residents of settlements in Port Moresby, he found that some residents lost their jobs, some lost portion of their income and other were rendered homeless because they could not pay house rent. The research involved interviews with 195 residents of ten (10) different settlements.

What did settlement residents lose during the lockdown?

Though lockdown was implemented as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in PNG, it had adverse impact on the livelihood of settlement residents. More than fifty percent of the 195 people that were interviewed lost portion of their income. As some settlement residents’ livelihoods are strongly linked to informal business activities, the lockdown restricted them from doing their normal businesses activities.

Of the 195 people that were interviewed, thirty-five percent could not do their businesses at all. This restricted them and their households from accessing basic necessities such as food, housing and clothing. In fact, some of the people (eleven percent) could not pay their house rents and were rendered homeless. Only one percent was rendered jobless. This indicates that settlement residents are resilient and that, with appropriate support they can adapt to various situations they may find themselves in.

The extent of income that settlement residents lost during the lockdown

In terms of income lost by settlement residents, eighty (80) percent of the residents that were interviewed lost fifty (50) percent of their income. Furthermore, eight (8) percent of the respondents lost sixty (60) percent of their income while two and half percent lost all their income. Considering that most people who reside in settlements are often seen as the poor and disadvantaged, the result revealed that settlement residents must have been hit harder by the lockdown.

In terms of the total value of money that the households of the 195 settlement residents lost as a result of the impact of the lockdown, they lost an average of K435,825 each fortnight. That is each of the 195 households lost K2,235 for each fortnight.

For six months starting from when the first lockdown was implemented on 24 March 2020 to September 2020 when the research reported in this paper was conducted, the 195 households lost a total K5.7 million.

Strategy to alleviate the impact of lockdown on informal business operators

It is acknowledged that GoPNG did a good job by earmarking K5.7 billion as economic stimulus packages to boost the economy and that a portion of the package is meant for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). However, it is important to establish initiatives that can be used to assist informal business operators with the aim of migrating them to micro enterprises in the long term.

An initiative or a program that can minimise the adverse impact of lockdown on livelihoods should be considered to alleviate the sufferings of informal operators. In some countries that have well-developed social welfare system, citizens were given food stamps and unemployment benefits to sustain them during lockdowns.
Some countries that does not have a well-developed social welfare systems distributed food to disadvantaged and less privileged people by the government in collaboration with the private sector. GoPNG should consider the most appropriate affordable and sustainable initiative to implement in future lockdown.

 

This article was first published in the Post-Courier’s 26 November 2020 edition and on its website’s commentaries and features page.