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The Startling Truth About COVID-19’s Global Impact

Written by Nate Irwin on

Every avid sports fan has heard the phrase “pick your poison.” It means “we’re so good we can beat you any way you choose,” “stop the run, and we’ll shred your defense with the pass,” or “pack the paint, and we’ll rain threes down on you.”

To translate: pick your poison means that whatever you choose, you will be defeated.

The Global Impact of the Coronavirus

The coronavirus has caused many people around the world to have to pick their poison when it comes to surviving. Many have had to make compromises and alter their lifestyle because we simply cannot live through this season unaffected in some way. No matter what your personal situation is or how you navigate it, you are impacted.

In a recent New York Times article, one man from Delhi, India, explained his situation—having made his livelihood pedaling a bicycle rickshaw in Delhi:

On a Wednesday afternoon, normally peak rush hour in Delhi, Ramchandran Ravidas was bicycling around in big, lazy circles in the middle of a main thoroughfare, boredom, hunger and his empty pockets on his mind.

Going on, the article shares the perspective of a 12-year-old ragpicker and how his life is altered during this challenging season:

Ashu and his two brothers spend their days at one of Delhi’s biggest dumps. They are ragpickers—scavengers who hunt for scrap metal using a giant, rusted sieve to help them sort through the stinking refuse.

If Ashu works really hard, he can earn 53 cents a day. He and his brothers have been unable to go to the dump regularly since the lockdown was announced because if they are caught by the police, they will be beaten.

“I miss my friends,” he said, adding that he and four buddies would meet at the dumpsite every morning, work for a few hours and then play with whatever treasures they found — broken toy cars, tattered dolls and ripped clothing.

“I hear there is a virus from China going around,” Ashu said. “But I’m more afraid of the police and not being able to eat.”

In essence, “for India’s laborers, coronavirus lockdown is an order to starve.”

This kind of impact is painful to observe. Our brothers and sisters in India are severely suffering, and these first-hand accounts help bring that into perspective. They give names and faces to the statistics we see in relation to the death toll in India.

Yet, many fear that the food crisis caused by the coronavirus lockdowns in India will lead to more deaths than the virus itself. As another New York Times article explains:

Uncertainty over food is also building in India, where daily-wage workers with little or no social safety net face a future where hunger is a more immediate threat than the virus.  As wages have dried up, half a million people are estimated to have left cities to walk home, setting off the nation’s “largest mass migration since independence,” said Amitabh Behar, the chief executive of Oxfam India.

“Instead of coronavirus, the hunger will kill us,” said a Mr. Singh, one of the migrant workers waiting in line, hoping to eat his first meal in a day. Other migrants have fought each other over a plate of rice and lentils. Mr. Singh said he was ashamed to beg for food but had no other option.

The effect on India’s workforce is especially dire.

But social distancing means hunger for many in India, with a workforce heavily dependent on manual labor. It would be an unheard-of luxury for the ragpicker or street vendor who lives day today.  About 80 percent of India’s 470 million workers are in the informal sector, lacking contracts and unprotected by labor laws. Many are manual laborers in the fields, factories and streets of India….

But the long-term trends are even more concerning. While the global rate of those living in extreme poverty has decreased dramatically in the past two decades, this situation is likely to change as a global food crisis looms.

The world has never faced a hunger emergency like this, experts say… Already, 135 million people had been facing acute food shortages, but now with the pandemic, 130 million more could go hungry in 2020, said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, a United Nations agency.  Altogether, an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end.

The coronavirus has sometimes been called an equalizer because it has sickened both rich and poor, but when it comes to food, that commonality ends. The poorest in India, and around the world, are now going hungry. The are facing the prospect of starving.

The coronavirus has been anything but a great equalizer,” said Asha Jaffar, a volunteer who brought food to families in the Nairobi slum of Kibera. “It’s been the great revealer, pulling the curtain back on the class divide and exposing how deeply unequal this country is (Abdi Latif Dahir, “‘Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global Food Crisis Looms).”

So, What Do We Do?

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11). But he also said, “Remember the poor” (Gal. 2:10). How do we do that? We can find wisdom in 1 John 3:17-18, which says,

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

As we make choices in the days ahead, let’s look for ways to serve others. Whether it’s donating to a Christ-centered, global organization you trust, praying fervently for the nations, or sending support to a global missionary serving the world’s most vulnerable: let’s choose to love in deed and in truth.

And finally, let’s be grateful for the options we have. I don’t say this to diminish the suffering you and many others may be going through during this pandemic. I say it to help bring perspective; to elicit the compassion that Jesus himself had when he encountered the sick, poor, and lost. Like our Savior, let’s choose to remember the poor so that some of them might not have to pick a poison.

Nate Irwin

Nate joined staff at College Park in 2002 as the Pastor of Global Outreach. He is also an elder for the North Suburbs Parish. Drawing on his own experience having grown up, and then serving as a missionary in, Pakistan, Nate works to challenge, prepare, and enable cross-cultural messengers of the gospel from College Park and to cast a vision for reaching unreached people groups through strategic partners. He is passionate about “finishing the task” of making disciples of all 17,000 nations in the world.

Prior to coming on staff, Nate served with TEAM as the principal of Zarephath Bible Institute in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Nate and his wife, Marty, have three adult children and two grandchildren. He enjoys spending time with his family, travel, and sports of all kinds.

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