The COVID-19 pandemic has caused “surprising” economic and humanitarian effects in developing countries

A scene in Bangladesh. Credit: Mehedi Hasan / Dhaka Tribune

Falling incomes, small meals, and declining education are among the consequences.

The beginning COVID-19 The pandemic caused devastating job and income losses in the global south last year, threatening hundreds of millions of people with hunger and lost savings, and increasing a number of risks for children. University of California, Berkeley.

The study will be published in the journal on Friday, February 5, 2021 Scientific developments, found “surprising” revenue losses after a pandemic broke out last year; On average, 70% of households in nine countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America reported material losses. As of April last year, about 50% or more of those surveyed in some countries were forced to eat smaller meals or abstain from food altogether, up from 87% for rural families in Sierra Leone, a West African country.

“In the first months of the pandemic, the economic downturn in low- and middle-income countries was almost worse than the other global economic crisis we know, the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, the Great Recession. An Ebola crisis that started in 2008 or more recently, ”he said. The study is co-authored by UC Berkeley economist Edward Miguel. “The economic costs were very, very serious.”

The pandemic has created some promising innovations, including a partnership between some western Togolese governments and UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) and a system for providing assistance through digital networks.

However, such gains are still isolated.

A new study – for the first time in the world – threatens the long-term effects of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic after twenty years of growth in many low- and middle-income countries: Malnutrition in childhood has health consequences in later life. Closed schools can cause developmental delays for some students, while others may simply drop out. Productivity may decline when families spend what they save on food instead of investing in fertilizer or farm development.

“Such effects can slow economic development in a country or region, leading to political instability, stagnant growth or migration,” said Miguel, co-author of CEGA.

An alarming sight during a pandemic

The work began in the spring of 2020 as China, Europe and the United States led global efforts to control the spread of the virus through the ambitious locking of businesses, schools and transit. Three independent research teams, including CEGA, participated to conduct surveys in the countries where they worked.

Between April and early July 2020, more than 30,000 people were contacted in nine countries with a population of 500 million, including more than 100,000: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone in Africa; Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines in Asia; and Colombia in South America. The questionnaires were conducted by telephone.

Share of Dwelling Houses in Food Security

Share of Dwelling Houses in Food Security. Credit: Innovations to Fight Poverty

Reports at the beginning of the pandemic suggested that the population of developing countries may be less vulnerable because they are younger than those in Europe and North America.

However, research teams found that the pandemic had a broad economic impact just weeks after governments introduced blocking and other measures to control the spread of the virus.

Income has declined widely. In Colombia, 87% of respondents worldwide said they lost income in the first phase of the pandemic. Such losses have been reported by more than 80% of the national population in Rwanda and Ghana.

People had difficulty finding food. In the Philippines, 77% of respondents worldwide said they had difficulty buying food because shops were closed, transportation was disrupted or food supplies were inadequate. Similar reports came from 68% of Colombians and 64% of respondents in Sierra Leone; the ratios were similar for some communities in other countries.

Food security has increased dramatically. While the impact was worst in Sierra Leone villages, other communities were hit hard: 69% of landless farming families in Bangladesh reported being forced to eat less, along with 48% of Kenyan rural households.

Children were at increased risk. With the closure of schools, the risk of falling behind in education has increased. Most respondents reported delaying health care, including prenatal care and vaccinations. Some communities reported an increase in domestic violence.

“The combination of long-term nutrition, closed schools and limited health services can be particularly detrimental in the long run for children from poor families with no alternative sources,” the authors wrote.

COVID Bangladesh

A scene in Bangladesh. Credit: Rajib Dhar / Dhaka Tribune

Miguel’s latest research focuses on the economic conditions for poor people in Kenya, and says people there are trying to cope with the crisis.

“People moved in with relatives,” he said. “People have returned to their homes in the villages where they eat,” he said. Other people relied only on the generosity of their friends and relatives and co-workers. It’s a dilemma when you live on just a few dollars a day and you don’t get that money. ”

Wealthy countries are also in crisis, but one of the authors, Susan Athey, an economist at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business Administration, said they did better.

“COVID-19 and its economic shock pose a serious threat to residents of low- and middle-income countries, where most of the world’s population is deprived of the social security networks available in rich countries,” he said. “The evidence we have gathered shows dire economic consequences … if left unchecked, it could push millions of vulnerable families into poverty.”

A positive, highly effective international partnership model

In fact, Miguel said governments everywhere are struggling to address the health and economic dimensions of the pandemic. He said governments in both rich and poor countries were using the pandemic as a reason to fight their political rivals.

But the crisis has also created encouraging signs. The CEGA initiative, which supports Togo’s leaders in developing a digital assistance payment system, could be a model for international partnerships.

As part of the project, CEGA co-chair Joshua Blumenstock worked closely with top government officials in Togo to develop an advanced information-based system to identify people in need and provide financial assistance. The system uses new computing technologies with data from satellite imagery, mobile phones and traditional surveys to identify people or communities with economic problems.

CEGA and GiveDirectly received a $ 1.2 million grant from Inclusive Growth and Salvation Challenge to do more work on the project.

“More than 550,000 Togolese have already received about $ 20 a month in cash,” said Lauren Russell, CEGA’s chief operating officer. “The grant should allow the project to be further expanded and evaluated in the hope that it may be more appropriate for other low- and middle-income countries to adopt the methods.”

Global crises require global solutions

Still, Miguel said the differences between rich and poor nations were “heartwarming.” He said nations in North America and Europe were struggling with vaccination plans, but most low-income countries had fewer vaccinations.

“We will not recover in rich countries until the whole world is vaccinated and the crisis is resolved globally,” he said. “As long as there is an active pandemic affecting travel and tourism and trade in some parts of the world, our economy and society will suffer. If we can spread the wealth in terms of helping the pandemic and distributing vaccines, we will all get out of this hole faster. ”

Reference: “Living standards in the COVID-19 crisis: Quantitative evidence from nine developing countries” Dennis Egger, Edward Miguel, Shana S. Warren, Ashish Shenoy, Elliott Collins, Dean Karlan, Doug Parkerson, A. Mushfig Mobarak, Günther Fink , Christopher Udry, Michael Walker, Johannes Haushofer, Magdalena Larreboure, Susan Athey, Paula Lopez-Pena, Salim Benhachmi, Macartan Humphreys, Layna Lowe, Niccoló F. Meriggi, Andrew Wabwire, C. Austin Davis, Utz Johan Maarten Voors, Carolyn Nekesa and Corey Vernot, February 5, 2021, Scientific developments.
DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abe0997

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