Pandemic deepens global poverty

Issue 
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, global poverty reduction was drastically slowing down, pushing millions into extreme poverty, with Nigeria being the worst hit. Photo: Lovelyn Obiakor/Wikimedia Commons

According to a United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) report, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to double the number of people suffering acute hunger in the world this year.

The report shows how the virus, together with the measures taken to slow the spread, will aggravate circumstances for people already living in the poorest nations of the world.

The economic impacts of the pandemic also threaten to constitute a “new era” of poverty, placing decades of progress at risk, according to a United Nations University (UNU) report. The UNU researchers found that under a worst-case scenario, 8% of the global population — more than half a billion people — will be pushed into poverty as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The World Bank reports that 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and 16 million in South Asia will face extreme poverty due to the crisis.

Some researchers claim that progress has been made in decreasing the number of global poor. Others remain skeptical about the overall progress, but concur on the gloomy reality of the poverty statistics resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers from Kings College in London are arguing that the situation will be much worse than estimates coming from the International Labour Organization that more than 580 million people will be pushed into poverty due to COVID-19.

Oxfam International is urging the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the G-20, which are all due to meet this year, to immediately implement a rescue fund.

Reuters Africa reports that the continent is now facing a “hunger pandemic” amidst the COVID-19 crisis. The Guardian reports that a devastating locust outbreak “20 times worse than before” is threatening food supply across Africa.

The locust swarms have a huge impact on local harvests, exacerbating already poverty stricken nations, and hunger is expected to be worse than already estimated, due to coronavirus.

While there is hope for change according to some media outlets, such as the Financial Times, staggering poverty statistics are no cause for optimism.

Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19, the World Poverty Clock reported that efforts to reduce global poverty was drastically slowing down, pushing millions into extreme poverty, with Nigeria being the worst hit.

According to the Brookings Institute, the pace of poverty reduction has slowed by two-fifths since 2017. Several African nations, Venezuela and Yemen have already been hit by extreme poverty, due to low global economic growth. Yet again, global capitalism takes its hit.

But the official global COVID-19 statistics presented so far are only focusing on affluent populations, which means that the picture is far worse.

UNU’s Andy Sumner wrote: “Our estimates show that, regardless of the scenario, global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990, and, depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of approximately 10 years in the world’s progress in reducing poverty.

“In some regions the adverse impacts could result in poverty levels similar to those recorded 30 years ago.”

In Spain, a universal basic income is being tried as a measure to avoid widespread poverty. But no plans are officially being made by any of the world’s leading organisations on how to avoid the forecasts for the global poor.

The possible Gross Domestic Product (GDP) loss expected from the crisis is said to be the major cause of worldwide hunger. According to recent estimates by the International Food Policy Research Institute, 80 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone could be pushed into destitution and starvation,

According to the World Bank, there were 730 million people living in extreme poverty in 2015. While the 2008 Global Financial Crisis did not touch all parts of the world, the coronavirus certainly has.

While huge subsidies to airline industries and big corporations are being spewed out world-wide, safety packages to halt the number of global poor facing death by hunger remain to be seen.

Politico reports: “Last week, the International Monetary Fund projected that the crisis would result in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

“The fund also predicted that income per capita would shrink across 170 countries in 2020, but its managing director, Kristalina Georgieva said [on April 17] the projection might be ‘a more optimistic picture than reality produces’.”

The World Bank predicts that the UN’s goals to end world hunger were already unlikely to be met, and the World Bank’s goal to end poverty by 2030 would not be achieved.

Without a joint effort to stop the devastating impact of the pandemic on the global poor, the divide between the wealthy and the poor will be even more stark.

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