Workers unload boxes of medical protective equipment and material from a cargo plane, arriving from China, to Liszt Ferenc Airport in Budapest (photo: AFP)
The United Nations published a report on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the world economy at the end of March, outlining the effects of a crisis that has taken the world by storm and the measures that have been implemented in order to combat it.
The UN report focuses on the people that the pandemic has had the most brutal effects on, including women, young people, low-wage workers and other vulnerable groups, describing the situation as “a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations.”
The virus is not only attacking people’s health but societies as a whole, the report said. Work on issues like gender equality and halting violence has been pushed back around the world as the virus had made its way through more than 210 countries.
Not only was global growth in 2019 already the slowest since the 2008/2009 global financial crisis, but the report also mentions that “the Covid-19 crisis risks reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty and exacerbating already high levels of inequality within and between countries.”
The effects of Covid-19 show in the levels of unemployment around the world, with a 27 per cent unemployment rate in the US state of Wisconsin alone and 16 million people being laid off in the US as a whole.
The virus threatens to double Turkey’s unemployment rate, and China has seen a rise in the number of people left jobless due to the effects of the virus on the economy. Migrant workers have been badly affected, and the report highlights grave effects on countries such as Haiti, Nepal, Tonga and El Salvador among many others whose economies are dependent on remittances and social protection is almost non-existent.
“According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates, we could lose between five million and 25 million jobs and see losses in labour income in the range of $860 billion to $3.4 trillion,” the report says. The self-employed, small and medium-sized enterprises, daily wage earners and others working cash-in-hand are likely to be hit the hardest.
“I’ve stopped going to work as many other people have too. My family and I are covered for now, but what about later, if this goes on for much longer? I will run out of ways to feed my family,” commented Cairo coffee shop waiter Ahmed Mohamed.
With so many countries in lockdown and many people in self-isolation, more damage is being done to the economy as supply chain interruptions halt production. Impacts on “manufacturing industry and falling commodity prices, in particular of oil, further compound the economic impacts of the pandemic,” the UN report says.
Food prices are likely to increase, making the battle against malnutrition in vulnerable countries even harder as many were dependent on the aid of other countries. The UN warns that if measures are not put in place to guard against such risks it is likely that such situations will exacerbate.
Education is another area that has been hugely impacted by the coronavirus. The global lockdown has caused many schools and universities to close, which has had a huge impact on children and young adults as their learning and socialising has been interrupted without warning and without any clear idea of how long these closures will go on for.
Protection for many children has been lost as many families depend on school meals to feed their children. The gap in learning can put pressure on parents, and in some societies it can also lead to a rise in cases of child labour and child marriage due to the difficult situations families are being put in.
“166 countries have implemented country-wide school and university closures. More than 1.52 billion children and youth are currently out of school or university, representing 87 per cent of the world’s enrolled school and university student population,” the report says.
The report’s call-to-action revolves around solidarity as no country on its own will be able to overcome the crisis. Initial steps are needed to increase expenditure on healthcare, the report says, since healthcare facilities and medical supplies are vital as the number of confirmed cases continue to rise.
The world’s healthcare systems are facing difficult times, with a need for more healthcare workers and a rise in demand for tests. Efforts must be made both financially and socially to prepare each country for a more effective and quicker response to Covid-19, the report says.
Other measures include engaging with the private sector to help small businesses and introducing a real commitment to protect human rights, with an emphasis on women and girls to ensure that they are not faced by additional burdens.
Of the recovery period after the crisis is over, the report asks what kind of world will emerge after the pandemic. Will people go back to their old ways, or will they seek change and use the pandemic as a way of bringing it about, it asks.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly