Epidemic May Be A Catastrophe for the Poorest
The global response to the pandemic and the economic recovery strategy must not leave poor behind.
A lush tropical rain forest, grasslands and trees feature several waterfalls, the biggest of which cascades down toward the sandy, sun-drenched beach. Fifty years ago, the gentle sandy slope in Cox's Bazar was the scene of intense shelling by the Indian Navy during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Today is it is an arena of another one, a battle for humanity. More than 850,000 Rohingya refugees are living in makeshift shelters in the town located about three hours of drive by car from the capital of Dhaka, in what the United Nations described the world’s largest refugee camp.
“When the Myanmar military attacked my home, I lost four of my closest family members; my father, my brother, my sister and one of my nephews. Everything I owned was burned down – I’ve lost everything,” stated Nurul Amin, 35, a refugee in Cox’s Bazar. He arrived with his family a year ago.
Mr Amin found more security for his family. But in the densely populated camp work is impossible to find. There are no schools for his four children.
This impoverished community in the poorest country of the world Bangladesh and at least three other like Sierra Leon, South Sudan and the Palestinian territory are among the most vulnerable ones which are facing the threat of deadly Wuhan virus.
The international human rights organisation ChristianAid called upon the governments to prepare for the challenge that can badly hit the poorest of the poor. “Poorer countries need a way to mobilise domestic funds for healthcare and Covid-19 protection, as the emergency looms. The pandemic will hit the poorest the hardest,” the authors of the report warned.
The United Nations analysts project that deaths in Africa alone could range between 300,000 and 3.3 million. There are at least three reasons for such a dire conclusion: overcrowded camps, malnutrition and current battles with other diseases.
Forty per cent of population does not have access to the anti-bacterial soap
World Health Organisations recently informed that 40 per cent of the earth population, including the majority of refugees, are unable to access running water or anti-bacterial soap. They can not wash hands often enough to reduce the threat of infection. Poor hygiene almost always is linked to a lack of food. In the first three months of this year, nearly three million people in the poorest countries died out of hunger.
The combined effects of unemployment lost trade and investment, and reduced government revenues during the pandemic are projected to deepen poverty for hundreds of millions of people who were already poor and, in the worst scenario could drive as many as 580 million more people into extreme poverty. One recent survey in Senegal, for example, showed that 85% of households have seen their income fall, and a third are consuming less food.
The social-distancing measures like strong restrictions on movement may not be a solution in poorest countries like some in Africa. The United Nations warned that nearly half of all jobs in Africa would be lost if the measures would not be balanced.
"They are already fighting food insecurity and underfunded health systems"
“These are people already battling endemic poverty and complex emergencies, including protracted humanitarian crises, long-running conflict, food insecurity, economic shocks, displacement and underfunded health systems,” the authors of the ChristianAid report emphasised.
The coordinated international response that would focus on global protection package and a global recovery plan is needed.
The first dimension must create the fiscal space for low-income countries for a response, through a package of financial support to the poor populations agreed with the World Bank and IMF and backed by the G20. Developed economies should finance a response to the health threat. The recovery strategy must not leave the poor behind. The economic stimulus must lead to the creation of a more just world and sustainable reduction in poverty.
The specialists called upon the world governments and financial institutions including World Bank and International Monetary Fund for a cancellation of the principal and interest on debts falling due this year, and for debt payment suspension for a full second year. Such a move would help Sierra Leone to redirect 15 per cent of its budget expenses to the health system. The Christian specialists encouraged Bangladesh and South Sudan government to support displaced people who have lost all means of income through cash distribution, agriculture training or other sustainable ways of earning a living.
Global solutions are needed
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the introduction to the report appealed to Western societies: “seventy-five years after VE Day, it is more critical than ever that in another global crisis we rediscover how we can work together to make this world a safer, more connected and a far fairer place.”
“The need for imaginative cross-border solutions could not be starker”, he concluded.