Food Security and Human Mobility During the COVID-19 Lockdown
51 Pages Posted: 15 May 2020
Date Written: May 13, 2020
During the COVID-19 crisis, millions of migrants around the world face food insecurity. This could force migrants to travel during the pandemic, exposing them to health risks and accelerating the spread of the virus. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates the importance of enforcing food security policies to tide the crisis. However, the effects of these policies on containing mobility during the crisis remain unknown. Using mobility data from Facebook, we demonstrate that a policy to guarantee food security that has attracted attention from the Supreme Court of India — portable ration cards — is related to lower mobility during India’s COVID-19 lockdown. Intra-state portable ration cards, which give migrants access to food when they move within their state, are associated with 12% lower intra-state mobility. This effect is particularly strong for states that have fully implemented the policy compared to states that have partially implemented it. However, inter-state portability of ration cards is not related to reduced inter-state mobility, suggesting frictions in implementing the policy across state borders. We also find that food distribution activities by ration shops and civil society actors at the local level are associated with reduced mobility both within states and across state borders. Our study provides generalizable lessons for policymakers around the world: food security policies are essential for helping migrants restrict their travel during the pandemic. Policy implementation requires lead time; therefore, central governments need to coordinate with local actors to increase food distribution to migrants in the immediate term.
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