October 20, 2020

For First Time in History, Families in Rural Areas Sending Money and Food to Relatives in Kigali

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In May, Police paraded this group of people it said had ignored Covid-19 measures preventing travel between Kigali and provinces. These people said they couldn’t survive in Kigali and had opted to go back to their villages

One in five households in Kigali are making very tough choices to be able to survive since government imposed devastating COVID-19 measures.

With no work since losing their jobs in March, many have opted to relocate to rural areas, says latest periodic food security assessment by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS). The agency monitors east, horn of Africa and many other regions.

Kigali, the small city had up 1.9m residents when the virus struck, grouped in nearly 80,000 households, according to current estimates.

Last week, government loosened up control measures on transport allowing them to operate at 100%.

However, to keep the bus companies in business, government maintained the nearly doubled transport fares. For seven months, high fares have increased transport costs, and hotels and restaurants are nearly empty.

While recovering sectors are gradually hiring back furloughed employees, sectors that are still closed like entertainment industry, or operating at below-average levels, continue to lay off employees.

The loss of income in better-off households impacted by the furloughs has reduced the demand for services in the informal sector which many poor households rely on for income. Basically, people in the neighborhoods no longer employ casual labourers for tasks like cleaning.

The FEWS report reads: “Households are currently coping by borrowing food, reducing meal sizes, and limiting non-food purchases. Relatives (including from rural areas), better-off neighbors, and church organizations are also assisting affected households.”

Due to relatively good harvests in rural areas from Season B in July, the people there have access to sufficient amounts of good, says FEWS.

But for those in Kigali, the FEWS assessment says the flow of food and money from rural areas to Kigali is now “greater than the traditional remittance flow from urban to rural areas”.

There are no signs government will completely reopen the country before January 2021. COVID-19 control measures are expected to remain in place until infection rates disappear altogether or significantly drop.

The poor Kigali residents who depended on daily wages or on the informal sector for their livelihood, have returned to their rural homes where access to food and income from the sale of food or casual labor especially on the Government’s $200m classroom construction project, is easier.

Nationally, the anticipated economic recovery following the lifting of the initial national lockdown and the launching of the Economic Recovery Fund remains modest, despite increased activity in manufacturing, trade, and construction.

Many businesses, particularly private hospitals, schools, hotels, and restaurants, are unable to hire-back staff. There are reports that some struggling businesses are now dismissing some mid-level staff, while the sectors that are recovering have begun re-hiring employees.

This is leading some members of middle-income households impacted by job losses to survive by engaging in stressed coping strategies such as borrowing food from shops and vendors, requesting relatives (including from rural areas) to assist with food or money, or seeking assistance from friends.

Remittances from abroad are also increasing, says the FEWS assessment, though individual money transfers are smaller than normal. The people abroad also don’t have enough, and are sending less money than they used to for years.

The mainly poor farming households that relied on cross-border activity for income in the Western and Southern provinces before COVID, have lost access to this income source due to the COVID-19 related border closures.

As concerns 68,000 Burundian refugees, those in the camp in eastern Rwanda, are slowly returning. However, FEWS says the estimated 12,000 Burundian refugees in urban areas will very likely to wait for more security guarantees before repatriating.

These urban Burundians have also lost their jobs as most worked in the hospitality sectors. Many depended on remittances from families in Europe and North America, and that has dried away.

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