The current COVID-19 pandemic is claimed to have had a tremendous effect on the increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide. Even though the infection rate in many developing countries is still low, the economic impact of the virus already shows a negative image which is likely to continue in the foreseeable future affecting millions of people.
Based on the most optimistic forecast of the World Bank, 49 million people will be pushed into absolute poverty which includes people living from less than $1.90 per day. This would be the highest growth in global poverty since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. UNICEF warns of the danger children and families have to face due to the new situation. The threats of poverty would affect not only workers who lost their jobs during the lockdowns but also children who are more vulnerable to malnutrition, hunger, lack of health care and education or even violence.
Even though poverty is most of the time measured by financial means, it is worth considering the wide range of aspects poverty affects and the fact that it is present in every country of the world, even in the richest ones.
The fight against poverty has been one of the main components of the United Nations, hence the “Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty in all its forms”, which acknowledges the complexity of the term. Poverty does not solely mean the lack of sufficient income, but it includes many elements. Some of them are the weakened immune system that is more prone to diseases due to malnutrition, political and economic instability that can shake a whole country, orphaned children whose whole life can be determined by the childhood traumas or the vulnerability to violence and exploitation. The international organizations dealing with these issues, such as UNICEF, U.N. Trade and Development or the U.N. itself, have been able to achieve a positive result in reducing poverty. However, the effects of the Coronavirus is likely to undo much of these changes.
According to the calculations of the World Bank and the Brookings Institutions, the most severely hit areas will be Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, including countries such as India, Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Congo. The Economist reveals some personal experiences of people who lost their jobs during the Coronavirus lockdown and have only one meal a day. They cannot afford clean water, so they get it from a dirty well which increases the risk of diseases. In India, migrants who moved to urban areas now lost their jobs but cannot afford the ticket back to their villages, so they are stuck in overcrowded neighbourhoods where social distancing is nearly impossible. A case study on Malawi by the U.N. illustrates a similar situation. The numerous diseases make the protection of the population more difficult as well as the lack of knowledge of how to use the hygiene products properly. The cases of India and Malawi are just two where the Coronavirus will have disastrous effects due to the increased poverty.
The current calculations imply that the crisis will deepen further after this year leading to an increase in poverty and inequality not just in developing countries, but also in developed ones, only on a smaller scale. To avoid a humanitarian disaster, the U.N. Trade and Development has put together a package that involves the cooperation of the international community. The four steps would be to introduce policies to expand the economy, invest in sustainable development, learn from the mistakes of the 2007-2008 food crisis and to help the less developed countries create jobs.
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