Submitted by Dr. Margaret Brito
The Government of Barbados should immediately create an emergency food disbursement system that would deliver free food directly to people’s houses free of cost and would continue for the duration of the lockdown.
The government needs to utilize every resource at its disposal to ensure that citizens can successfully live through this lockdown, this period of uncertainty. The uncertainty comes from officials here in Barbados not knowing how to manage this pandemic, and as the number of infections rise, not being able to get a grip on what the problem really is. However, they could have taken a leaf out of the books of African nations such as Senegal and Liberia, who from as early as February began testing for the corona virus and training medical personnel in hospitals to recognize and treat its symptoms, and nations such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia and Ghana, who from early March placed travel restrictions on Americans, Europeans and Chinese, because those governments quickly perceived that people of these nationalities travelling to African countries spread the disease. Our cousins on the continent are way ahead of us because they’ve suffered through epidemics like AIDS and Ebola, the experience of which spurred them to develop clear and viable responses to emergencies of this kind. Consequently, African nations report the least number of COVID-19 infections as a result of practical and swiftly implemented measures.
In Barbados, the pandemic has created intense fear among the population, which is articulated in a new “stay at home” orthodoxy. But staying at home, though a guaranteed way to slow down or even halt infections, is not a burden the people can afford to carry alone. The lockdown needs to be accompanied by solid governmental support, and once again, we can look to Africa for a practical approach. According to a report out of Malawi, the President of Kenya, Paul Kagame, is providing the people there with free food and electricity because “we cannot lock people in their homes and rooms in hunger,” a sentiment which goes to the root of the issue. People need to be able to easily stay in their homes, and must have the resources to remain at home. They should not have to venture outside for anything. If they cannot go out to procure what they need, then what they need must be brought to them.
I do not know how many people are receiving salaries from their workplaces or organizations during this time, or how may have been thrown under the bus. I do know several self-employed people who are struggling, as well as people who have very little funds or are completely broke. But regardless of whether they have savings or not, all citizens are entitled to governmental assistance during this emergency, a fact which several nations around the world have quickly recognized. Governmental assistance is essential, and must address the severest needs of the people, one of which is food.
The government should immediately create an emergency food disbursement system that would deliver food directly to people’s houses free of cost and would continue for the duration of the lockdown. Chief among the food items should be non-perishable items such as rice, dried peas and beans, sugar, flour, grains such as oats and other cereals, and pasta products; perishables such as milk, butter, eggs and bread; and other items such as tinned items, hygiene products such as medicated soap, toothpaste and cleaning products, in particular, bleach and vinegar. Other essential items are medications, food for pets and natural gas bottles. More categories can be added. Let each household choose about six categories of items, and let them have these items delivered to them in bales or cases, that is, in bulk, enough to last a family of five for about a month. I have bought rice by the half-bale and also large supplies of soap and toothpaste. That half-bale of rice lasted me several months because I’m a single person, and don’t eat very large portions now. I’m thinking a family with a man and woman with growing children and teenagers could live off the above for about two months.
Buy potatoes, green vegetables, fruit and herbs from the small farmers, the heroes of the future. Pay them well. Have a separate, more rapid delivery service for these perishables so people can have the required amount of green alkaline foods and vitamins to boost their immune systems.
Create a pool of delivery cars, vans, bikes or whatever, with delivery personnel in good health wearing masks and gloves and instructed in the best practices for handing objects to people. Draw this pool of delivery personnel from among small entrepreneurs and independent contractors, most of whom work hard and give pretty good services. Pay them well. Don’t let big businesses such as the large import companies and large freighting companies monopolize the process. This is no time for the rich to be profiteering off the poor.
Citizens should find it easy to access foodstuffs and meds, and should not have to jump through any hoops. All someone should have to do is say they have a need for food, provide their name and address, and they should be able to get what they need the same day or the following day at the most, especially if the items are medications being delivered from pharmacies. If this is organized properly, it could work efficiently. Also, people who are not citizens should have the same access to these services as anyone else. This is not the time for the government’s immigration policies to kick in.
Don’t place this food disbursement service under the control of inefficient entities like the Welfare Department, which has a deeply ingrained contempt for the poor and a civil service attitude that makes them one of the sloppiest of the government agencies. Create a new organism, allow it to be flexible, allow it to listen to and act upon the needs of the people.
The government should call upon the billionaires in the private sector to subsidize this process, because these billionaires did not become rich through any special entrepreneurial talent or skill of theirs, but because hard-working people, most of whom live from pay check to pay check take up their hard-earned money and give them in exchange for clothes, food, cars, hardware, financial services, marketing services, technology, everything you can imagine, and it’s time the billionaires gave back. They should take a leaf out of the book of Rihanna, the littlest billionaire of them all, who pulled her pocket during this crisis to give back to the people who made her the superstar she is. It’s called reciprocity. It’s one of the seven principles of Ma’at, an African spiritual and philosophical system that governed social order, political order and cosmic order in Kemit for millennia.
For the duration of the lockdown, citizens should be released from making rent and bill payments, mortgage and loan payments, and should not have to pay accumulated arrears.
The government should also take a leaf out of the books of countries like Canada and Australia, who have created stimulus packages for disbursement of cheques to people who need money.
The processes above should be made a reality from now, so that citizens can face this crisis with the assurance there are safety nets for them should their situations become more difficult.
It is not clear how long the lockdown would last. This lockdown might not be the last crisis we will experience this year. It could even be, as some suggest, the ushering in of a new socio-political order. The government should begin as of now to upgrade people’s ability to live in a paradigm in which human contact becomes unnecessary and even irrelevant.
Make sure people have the capacity to carry out every kind of transaction online. We should have the capacity to make any payment and receive any payment using computers and devices, easily and inexpensively. We should be empowered to carry on any type of business from home. We should also begin to reflect upon what communities would be like following the fear-induced social distancing, which is currently accompanied by frustration and uncertainty.
The corona virus is not just about a virus. The virus is only one element of a multi-dimensional global event in which greed in its most crass form is threatening to precipitate the implosion of a paradigm that has never served us well, and is best destroyed, even as its destruction appears to be driving people out of their minds. Barbadians, perhaps out of the fear of experiencing that which is even more fearful than what they’re now experiencing, have chosen to ignore the many events going on at this time, of which the virus is only one. Yes, seeing several monsters at once can scare the crap out of some people, but choosing to focus exclusively on only one of them prevents you from understanding the true nature of this 2020 spectre, and of developing appropriate mental attitudes and correct personal and collective responses toward it.
I like the attitude of the Maasai. I especially love this part of their bold statement, an articulation of their fearlessness in the presence of this monster, recognizing it to be but an old monster with a new face:
“The Maasai believe that the new CORONA virus christened COVID-19 is not as deadly as the Smallpox (ENTIDIYAI) virus that was released unto them in the 1880s by the British colonialists with the intention to annihilate them to pave way for them to occupy their land. The Maasai then, successfully used herbs to defeat the highly contagious smallpox virus and they can still use herbal medicine to conquer COVID-19. NO NEED TO WORRY.”