The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Pakistan
As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the developing world, the World Bank estimates that there will be between 119 to 124 million additional people added to poverty due to economic standstills. Developing countries are at high risk of an increase in poverty, including Pakistan. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is substantial, but the government and other organizations have been cooperating to minimize the impact.

COVID-19’s Impact on Pakistan

In Pakistan, to date, there have been more than 22,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Vaccination programs have experienced delays, with only about 2% of the population of Pakistan currently vaccinated. To receive the vaccine, residents pay around $78, a luxury that many Pakistanis cannot afford. Due to the U.K. strain, cases are rising again. However, government officials are hesitant to enforce a strict lockdown as they did in March 2020. Rather, the government utilized the popular “smart” or “micro” lockdowns, where only specific areas go into lockdown. However, limited data exists on the success rates of these strategies.

Pre-Pandemic Pakistan

Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s health system had limitations. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), before COVID-19, Pakistan had a ratio of one doctor to 963 people and a lack of universal healthcare. Before the virus, the poverty rate in Pakistan declined by 40% over the last two decades. However, the economic impacts of the pandemic halted poverty reduction progress.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Women and Children

COVID-19 has impacted women and children in Pakistan more significantly than men. Due to the virus, these vulnerable groups are suffering several consequences. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in Pakistan. In June 2020, nearly 42 million children were out of school, with 17 million children younger than 5 missing routine vaccinations.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the shutdowns due to COVID-19 have disproportionately affected women, and in particular, the garment industry, which makes up a substantial part of Pakistan’s exports. In Pakistan, the majority of the population has employment within the garment industry, with approximately one in seven women working in this sector.

To rectify the bleak situation, the Pakistan Workers Federation and the Employers Federation of Pakistan issued a joint statement of cooperation and the government provided wage support. These efforts also included a “no lay off” order and an interest rate reduction for employers who retain their employees.

The Good News

While the situation looks bleak, the government and organizations are taking action to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan. The U.N. Development Programme established a COVID-19 Secretariat at Pakistan’s Planning Commission in 2020 to facilitate the economic and social response to the pandemic in conjunction with U.N. agencies. The Secretariat supported the Pakistani government’s 2020-2021 budget and National Action Plan for COVID-19.

To alleviate the lockdown’s hardships in 2020, the government issued unconditional cash transfers of approximately $70 to 12 million vulnerable households to prevent food insecurity. To continue to support the most vulnerable population, Ehsaas, the federal social protection program, made extra payments to 4.5 million families. Under the Ehsaas Emergency Cash initiative, another 7.5 million households received monetary assistance.

Dr. Sania Nishtar, the leader of Ehsaas, said in an interview with Mckinsey, that Ehsaas “invested” heavily in time, money, energy and effort to build infrastructure, including an SMS-based request-seeking mechanism, which allowed for ease in eligibility determinations and digital payments.

The World Bank ranked Ehsaas as one of the top four social protection programs by coverage. In March 2021, the World Bank issued a statement supporting the program by approving $600 million to expand Ehsaas. The fund allocation will facilitate the expansion of the programs to reach more informal workers.

Looking Ahead

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Pakistan is significant, however, the government and organizations are working together to provide social protection to the most vulnerable groups and will continue to do so as vaccination rates increase.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Poverty in Myanmar
In 2017, Myanmar’s poverty rate was approximately 24.8%. By December 2020, the second wave of COVID-19 was estimated to bring the poverty rate to almost 50%. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar has been devastating but aid aims to remedy the situation.

A Breakdown of COVID-19 in Myanmar

Myanmar’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was in late March 2020. In the weeks leading up to the first positive case, Myanmar’s government outlined its plan for curbing the virus’s spread. On April 6, 2020, Myanmar’s government initiated lockdowns and ordered schools and businesses to commence remote operations.

The daily numbers and seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar increased in September 2020 when restrictions first eased. The seven-day average rose from three to 300 by mid-September 2020 and peaked in October 2020 with a seven-day average of more than 15,000. November 2020 witnessed a steady decline. Myanmar’s COVID-19 seven-day average has remained at fewer than 100 cases since mid-February 2021.

Recently, COVID-19 cases in Myanmar have been increasing again. Many world doctors and health officials question the validity of the reported numbers since the military seized power on February 1, 2021. The military imprisoned doctors who opposed it and COVID-19 testing slowed as a result. COVID-19 case numbers in Myanmar are potentially higher than officially reported.

Myanmar’s Response to COVID-19

In early June 2021, Myanmar reached a recorded 144,000+ COVID-19 cases and upwards of 3,000 deaths. Myanmar’s economy halted and COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar, requiring the government and the people to strategize in order to encourage economic flow.

Economically, Myanmar’s government endeavored to stimulate halted areas of the economy. Service sectors and tourism contributed significantly less to the Myanmar economy. However, information and technology services expanded and the agricultural areas of Myanmar stayed stable.

To improve the Myanmar economy, the government drafted a plan costing $2 billion. The government received its funding from international partners. The funding goes toward stimulus packages, investments in infrastructure and improving public services such as healthcare.

Immediate Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Myanmar

The progress Myanmar has made over the past decade in decreasing its poverty rate halted and even reversed. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar demanded that its government make significant investments that will benefit many workforces, but tourism, for example, cannot improve without open borders. Tourism became an intriguing industry for work in Myanmar in 1995. It now represents 3% of the employment force but displayed signs of expansion until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The year 2015 was a peak year for tourism in Myanmar. An estimated 2.5 million tourists spent 773 million kyats or $469,000. Until 2019, tourism accounted for 55% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The tourism industry hopes for an employment boom when Myanmar’s borders fully reopen.

Moving Forward

AstraZeneca is the only vaccine in Myanmar. The first shipments to Myanmar arrived in January 2021. As of June 2021, Myanmar has distributed three million vaccines. Fears of the AstraZeneca vaccine and its side effects spread after reports of blood clotting post-injection. Britain halted usage of the vaccine until further research could solidify its effectiveness but Myanmar did not.

Myanmar’s vaccination progress had two major distribution advancements between March and May 2021. Myanmar prioritized vaccinating healthcare workers. The distribution then expanded to include more categories of workers. It could take six months before another 10% of the population will have both vaccinations. Currently, only 3.1% of Myanmar’s population is at full vaccination status. Help from international allies will be necessary to make notable progress in vaccination distribution. The U.S. has a large supply of vaccines from all its distributors and intends to distribute vaccines internationally. Myanmar is working to raise funds to obtain more vaccines.

Aid Within Myanmar

For several decades, Myanmar’s poverty rate garnered the attention of many non-government organizations hoping to help. One such organization is World Vision International (WVI),  an organization based in England that typically works directly to support children. Recently, it dedicated the majority of its efforts to feeding and helping children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar.

In Myanmar, the organization works with local businesses to offer food and shelter to children. During the pandemic, WVI expanded its efforts to ensure child poverty levels do not rise even further. WVI has worked in Myanmar for decades. The organization recognized COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar and advocates on behalf of the people to the Myanmar government. WVI secured masks, gloves, sanitizer and cleaning stations throughout Myanmar.

Looking Ahead

WVI maintained money flow as much as it could in areas that lack of work devastated. It also delivered food to hard-to-reach areas of Myanmar. Other organizations followed WVI’s example when COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar peaked and negatively affected life for many in the country. With the combined efforts, the poverty level, which rose in 2020, stabilized. It is an arduous road to recovery for Myanmar. Myanmar should be able to reduce the impact of the virus on its poverty levels with assistance from allies and committed organizations.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Crisis in Ceuta and MelillaCeuta and Melilla are two enclave coastal Spanish cities in North Africa. They have often been the final stage for thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers looking to reach Europe.  Migrant numbers have been increasing recently, resulting in a humanitarian crisis in Ceuta and Melilla.

History of Ceuta and Melilla

After the 15th century fall of Islamic conquest in Spain, the Spanish Christians retook the Iberian Peninsula and widened the territory to include Ceuta in 1479 and Melilla in 1668. Both cities entered European Union (EU) territory along with Spain in 1986.

In 2005, Spain erected a 20-foot-high fence surrounding Ceuta and Melilla to stop migrants from entering the cities. The fence is topped with barbed wire, hundreds of surveillance cameras and approximately a thousand police and Guardia civil units. Since the fence’s construction, the number of migrants crossing through the cities has only increased. In May, 8-10,000 migrants crossed the borders. Some migrants even swam around the fence that separates Morocco from Ceuta and Melilla.

Reasons for Increased Migration

There are two major reasons behind this increase in migrants. The first reason is the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 severely affected the Moroccan economy. Hence, thousands of citizens crossed the Spanish border looking for better economic conditions and social stability.

The second reason is illegal smuggling. Morocco recently took action against the smuggling trade. Illicit smuggling negatively impacted the country’s economy. Despite this harm, smuggling was the main economic source for Ceuta and Melilla along with many northern Moroccan cities. The full shutdown of this trade left citizens in extreme financial deprivation, which led many of them to migrate.

Government Actions

The influx of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers into Spain’s enclaves created panic among Spanish authorities, who sent the military to deal with the crisis. Subsequently, the military attacked, beat and tear-gassed migrants to deter them from entering the Spanish cities. This reaction to the humanitarian crisis in Ceuta and Melilla has sparked backlash, especially from nonprofit organizations due to violations of EU law and other legal procedures.

A spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization CEAR said that Spanish authorities sent back thousands of migrants, including children, who were supposed to have protection under Spanish law. The President of Catalonia, Pere Aragonès, said that the autonomous community in Spain is willing to shelter migrant children as a “moral imperative” during a parliamentary debate. In contrast, the far-right Vox party’s Ignacio Garriga supported the army’s use of violence against migrants. Additionally, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor warned Spain against violence and suggested providing safe and legal procedures to migrants pursuing protection during the humanitarian crisis in Ceuta and Melilla.

Volunteer Actions

American Red Cross spokeswoman Isabel Brasero, who helped fatigued migrants in Ceuta, said “the city has the means to take care of all the people that arrived at its shores, but you never imagine that you will face this type of situation.” After the military intervention, volunteers in Ceuta donated clothes and cooked food for the migrants. Locals in Ceuta showed solidarity with the migrants and attended the funeral of a teenager who died swimming around the breakwater to Ceuta.

Ceuta and Melilla witnessed a humanitarian crisis that created chaos and outrage in Spain, which caused military action. Nonprofits, volunteers and many others are actively working to help migrants affected by the aftermath of the crisis.

Zineb Williams

Photo: Flickr

The Effects of COVID-19 in South OssetiaSouth Ossetia, an independent state of Georgia, closed its border with Russia in early April to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, once residents began returning home for the lockdown, cases started to increase despite mandatory quarantine for those crossing the border. South Ossetia confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on May 6. The effects of COVID-19 in South Ossetia have been devastating and continue to worsen as time goes on.

South Ossetia Divided

In mid-April, South Ossetia created a new set of regulations for all retail businesses. It required all employees to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and encouraged anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home. Despite the regulations, South Ossetia’s public was divided on how serious to handle the virus. Many citizens were frustrated with the government for taking such extreme measures and restrictions. When the first case of COVID-19 in South Ossetia appeared, the government instituted a fine of $200 to $500 to restore order and control the spread of the virus.

Cases increased to the hundreds when South Ossetia re-opened its border with Russia on September 15. South Ossetia’s healthcare system was not strong enough to handle the sudden rise in cases. Soon the president, along with many public officials, began testing positive. The Republic reported a lack of PPE and medicine. With drug and PPE prices increasing, it had to turn to North Ossetia for help. President Bibilov called on Russia to help. A field hospital was then set up in Tskhinvali with 150 beds, 150 medics and medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19.

A Failed Response

As of October 2020, COVID-19 in South Ossetia has increased to more than 650 cases. More than two-thirds of the cases were reported after the Republic reopened its border with Russia. The Republic believes that the number of cases is much higher due to many people self-isolating in their homes. Only high-risk patients were hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 in South Ossetia.

The International Crisis Group included South Ossetia on a list of regions vulnerable to COVID-19 in early May. The report included South Ossetia due to a lack of resources, support and preparedness. For example, the group reported that few doctors were able to treat patients and refused to do so because of a lack of PPE. The group also concluded that the medical staff did not have enough training to handle a pandemic. Most did not even know how to work a ventilator.

The International Crisis Group believes that South Ossetia would have benefitted from working with the World Health Organization earlier. But, unfortunately, South Ossetia refused to report vital information to the World Health Organization, such as requesting medical supplies.

In Conclusion

Overall, South Ossetia was not able to handle the severity of COVID-19, which it proved with its ill-preparedness. Most of its cases came from reopening its border with Russia, and the casualties from COVID-19 would have been much higher if Russia did not come to help. South Ossetia needs to re-evaluate its healthcare system in order to better protect its people from the COVID-19 virus.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in South KoreaThe COVID-19 pandemic that began in late 2019 has impacted families, communities and society as a whole. The pandemic precautions have been a worldwide effort to keep everyone safe. In South Korea, there have been a total of 118,243 cases of COVID-19 as of April 2021. Of the 118,243 who tested positive, there have been 1,812 deaths but 107,781 individuals have recovered. The statistics show the persistent effort that is being demonstrated by the South Korean government to keep the country and its citizens safe.

COVID-19 in South Korea

South Korea has made it a priority to establish a system for the country and its citizens in order to keep everyone safe. In the early stages of COVID-19, South Korea made it a priority to mitigate the situation by distributing tests to as many people as possible. The results of the test, positive or negative, would gauge the severity of the outbreak. The goal was to have everyone quarantine so that the transmission of the virus, regardless of the positive or negative test result, would be slowed. The procedure that the South Korean officials followed was: test, trace and isolate. Within weeks of the first COVID-19 case, South Korea was the leading country in distributing tests. In perspective, by the end of April 2020, the United States had more than one million positive cases. South Korea had fewer than 11,000 cases. In the early stages of COVID-19, South Korea had 3,700 cases whereas the United States had 32. Managing the quick outbreak, and dealing with its repercussions was not easy for any country. However, South Korea was able to quickly formulate a system of test, trace and isolate. This helped lessen the number of lost lives.

Vaccine Efforts in South Korea

The creation and distribution of vaccines have been a large factor in the success that South Korea has seen in combatting COVID-19. South Korea has signed a contract with Pfizer to purchase another 40 million doses of its vaccine. Collectively, South Korea has 192 million doses of vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca PLC, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The goal that South Korea had set was to have 70% of its citizens vaccinated with the first dose by November.

In order to obtain aid and assistance to receive these large quantities of vaccines, South Korea looks to the United States for help. South Korea provided assistance to the United States in the early stages of the pandemic with COVID-19 testing kits and face masks. Therefore, South Koreans hope for help from the United States in return. The U.S. State Department has made a statement regarding this vaccine alliance. The Department sees a possibility to help other countries increase their vaccine supplies but the citizens of the United States will be the priority.

Looking Ahead

South Korea was extremely successful in combating the virus at the beginning of the pandemic by acting quickly in response to testing and isolation. When no one knew how to handle the pandemic, South Korea stood as a strong example of how to minimize the effects of a global pandemic.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

The World Bank's Crisis Response
In early October 2020, the president of the World Bank Group (WBG) gave a speech to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the World Bank’s crisis response. In his speech, WBG president David Malpass discussed the enormous toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on developing countries. He also stated that the World Bank’s response would focus on alleviating poverty, inequality and debt burdens, and support educational and health opportunities.

Disparities

Dramatically uneven access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) across the globe is one indication of global disparities in economic well-being, which in turn have affected pandemic response capabilities. Lowering the transmission of COVID-19 requires the coordination of a globalized response. However, localized country-wide challenges in securing PPE, the most basic of pandemic safety necessities, prevent this possibility.

Illustrating this challenge is the fact that low-income countries have little economic agency to act during the global pandemic. Developed countries may face shortages in supplies of PPE. Those countries may even opt to reduce the supply of outgoing PPE sales in order to remediate domestic shortages. However, restrictive budgets, few local manufacturers and no way to import PPE exacerbate shortages in developing countries.

A 2020 National Institute of Health study estimated that if countries tightened up sales of PPEs, “export restrictions could initially increase prices of medical masks by 20.5%, Venturi masks by 9.1%, and protective equipment, such as aprons and gloves by 1% and 2% respectively” around the globe. For instance, a recent survey of seven low-income developing countries across the world showed that on average, clinics and health centers were only able to supply two of four necessary PPE items to medical staff. The challenges presented by PPE distribution demonstrate the importance of the World Bank Group’s aid programs around the world.

Dual Challenges

Lockdown guidelines that have successfully “flattened the curve” in developed nations are not always a viable option for developing economies. For example, in India, nearly 90% of the workforce is in the informal employment sector. In sub-Saharan Africa, 86% of workers have informal employment. The nature of informal work requires workers to leave the house for work and as a consequence, choose between keeping their families fed or respecting lockdowns. Countries that struggle to lower transmission rates or offset the financial damage of lockdowns see dual challenges. Implementing measures that “flatten the curve” and lower transmission rates cause economic harm. On the other hand, failing to reduce hospitalizations inflicts strain on medical systems, leading to high infection rates and death tolls.

“A Fire That Must Be Put Out”

In the World Bank Group’s June 2020 COVID-19 Crisis Response Approach Paper, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis is described as “a fire that must be put out.” As a direct result of the pandemic, for the first time in 60 years, the World Bank projected that Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs) will contract. The global economy will likely shrink by 5.2% in 2020, the deepest recession since World War II. For comparison, the global economy shrank less than 2% during the 2009 financial crisis. A number of traits cause EMDEs to be especially vulnerable to the pandemic’s negative economic impacts. Traits such as weaker health systems, dependence on global trade and tourism exacerbate financial instability. For the first time in decades, global poverty will rise.

The World Bank Group’s Response

International financial institutions, including the WBG, are moving quickly to prevent the loss of hard-won development growth in EMDEs. The WBG has recognized the new paradigm of the pandemic and as an organization, has shifted its focus to a crisis response agenda. In April of 2020, the WBG announced the first projects directly related to COVID-19 and prepared to deploy up to $160 billion over a period of 15 months to address COVID-19.

Like other international organizations, the World Bank’s crisis response to COVID-19 aims to focus on issues directly related to the pandemic. However, the WBG ensures a continuation of its broader development objectives by placing its COVID-19 crisis response agenda within its own Twin Goals. Adopted in 2013, its Twin Goals are to bring extreme poverty down and to promote prosperity among the bottom sector of every country. The WBG’s massive $160 billion project rollout focuses on direct response to COVID-19, and on protecting past economic development gains. This includes maintaining steady progress towards the Twin Goals.

The World Bank’s current crisis response agenda can be divided into near, medium and long-term agendas. These agendas are termed relief, restructuring and resilient recovery. Relief relates to dealing with the most direct impacts of COVID-19. Its restructuring plans include strengthening health systems, restoring human capital and restructuring social and economic sectors. Resilient recovery is about building a future in recognition of a changed post-pandemic world. In pursuing these plans, the WBG ultimately aims to assist at least one billion people affected by the pandemic.

– Marshall Wu
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in MexicoThe COVID-19 pandemic has led to a historic level of downfall in Mexico’s economy, causing thousands of individuals to lose their jobs. As of 2018, approximately 42% of the Mexican population lived below the poverty line; the pandemic has unfortunately strongly contributed more and more individuals to the impoverished communities in Mexico. The Mexican government did not impose a general lockdown because many citizens could not afford it. Even so, the economy was paralyzed due to most consumers locking themselves down voluntarily. Furthermore, public hospitals collapsed, resulting in people unable to receive medical attention or the private visit that could ultimately save their lives. COVID-19 in Mexico has brought to light the wealth disparity among citizens in Mexican society.

Vaccine Inequality

Vaccine inequality is prominent among those living in poverty. Vaccines are not currently reaching the rural areas of Mexico where there are thousands of people who are now geographically isolated from vaccine centers. Additionally, those who live in rural areas would require technology to stay informed about these vaccine centers, but poverty inhibits people from accessing technology and therefore the necessary education and information about vaccination.

Many citizens in Mexico did not originally believe in the severity of the novel coronavirus; face masks did not start being worn as soon as recommended. Health authorities reported not only that many people were not using face masks but also a large number of people were unable to afford one. As a result, patients who were living in extreme poverty are less likely to survive COVID-19 in Mexico. This is largely due to the fact that the impoverished are more exposed to the virus compared to those who are able to afford to quarantine and avoid exposure.

Demographics

The Mexican government is struggling to give the necessary attention to many who need it most. According to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, or CONEVAL, COVID-19 in Mexico caused a 63% drop in household income. The pandemic has proven that staying home is a privilege that many impoverished citizens do not have. Statistically speaking, 27% of people living in poverty contracted the novel coronavirus, while only 5% of the upper-class contracted COVID-19. This demonstrates the clear relationship between high rates of infection and socioeconomic status in Mexico.

Looking Forward

COVID-19 in Mexico has caused thousands of deaths, and the lack of infrastructure and government initiatives has caused delays in the vaccination process. However, Mexico has received more than 2.7 million COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of the United States. The White House has made what is considered a positive diplomatic step forward in providing Mexico with these doses of the vaccine, and the hope is that even more vaccines will be sent by the U.S.

The NGO Direct Relief has donated 330,000 masks to help relieve the crisis. As well, Direct Relief assisted in importing the 100,000 KN95 masks donated by Academy Award-winning film director Alfonso Cuarón. Many people are benefiting from the action, and the vaccination process is slowly improving in Mexico.

COVID-19 in Mexico has demonstrated how socioeconomic status affects access to healthcare and the ability to protect oneself from the pandemic. However, vaccination has begun and donations of personal protective equipment, or PPE, are steps in the right direction for Mexico’s handling of the novel coronavirus.

– Ainara Ruano Cervantes
Photo: Flickr

COPE NepalCOPE Nepal is a youth-led organization that collects and analyzes information about COVID-19 in Nepal to help coordinate efforts to send resources to Nepalese communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

COVID-19 in Nepal

There is no country that has not felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nepal included. The first case of COVID-19 in Nepal was detected on January 23, 2020, and the first case of COVID-19 that was locally transmitted was detected nearly two months later on April 4, 2020. On March 9, 2021, the country’s total COVID-19 case count reached 274,869 and total deaths reached 3,012.

Due to an inadequate healthcare system, COVID-19 is particularly concerning in a developing country such as Nepal. After the detection of the first local transmission, Nepal took significant steps to limit COVID-19 transmission. However, difficulties arose due to cases with unknown origins and overwhelmed quarantine centers. Self-isolation became the only option, which is harder for the Nepalese government to regulate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a negative effect on Nepal’s economy. In the last fiscal year, Nepal’s economy contracted for the first time in 40 years. Tourists were not allowed to climb the country’s famous peaks due to COVID-19 restrictions, hurting an economy that is highly dependent on tourism. Furthermore, as a result of school closures and other factors, child marriage is on the rise in Nepal, threatening to reverse progress made toward keeping girls in school.

COPE Nepal

As Nepalese colleges and universities transitioned to remote learning and many young adults found themselves in a state of uncertainty, they embraced creativity and innovation. COPE Nepal is an organization that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of university students from data analytics, branding and communications backgrounds created COPE Nepal with the goal of collecting, presenting and disseminating data about COVID-19 in visual formats. According to the co-founder of COPE Nepal, Anup Satyal, the COVID-19 lockdown opened up more opportunities to make a meaningful impact in Nepal.

COPE Nepal’s Strategy

COPE Nepal’s strategy consists of four parts which are outlined in the acronym COPE:

  • Coordinate efforts and responses with local government and NGOs
  • Operationalize and allocate resources
  • Personalize the COVID-19 response to each location
  • Evaluate strategies and results on a daily basis

COPE Nepal has published a total of four reports showing the progression of COVID-19 in Nepal in a way that is easily understood by policymakers and average people. These reports are also easily accessible on the humanitarian information portal ReliefWeb.

On Instagram, COPE Nepal posted calls for individuals to share their accounts of the conditions in government quarantine facilities. Its Instagram also includes graphics and data from the four published reports and information about COVID-19 safety such as how to properly dispose of personal protective equipment (PPE).

A group of talented Nepalese university students started COPE Nepal out of a desire to help their country better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Nepal transitions out of lockdown, COPE Nepal’s data collection and dissemination is important to ensure vulnerable populations are sufficiently protected from COVID-19.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19-impacts-freedom-in-the-world
The focus of 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues like food insecurity, mental health, increased poverty and widespread misinformation impacted people all over the world. As a result of unemployment, lack of social protection and various trade restrictions that have disrupted the international food supply chains, tens of millions of people are in danger of succumbing to extreme poverty. People’s freedom in the world is increasingly vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health services in nearly the entire world have experienced disruption, even though the demand is increasing. The societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered mental health conditions for some and worsened pre-existing ones for others. In a United Nations (U.N.) article addressing misinformation surrounding the pandemic, Dr. Briand, director of pandemic and epidemic diseases suggests that “when people are anxious and uncertain of a number of things they tend to compare with things they know already or things they have experienced in the past.” Fear and apprehension surrounding the vaccine have made it vital for organizations like the U.N. to provide accessible and understandable information that addresses public concerns.

Freedom in the world has been an overarching issue during the pandemic. It is also likely to have serious implications in the coming years. Freedom House is a nonpartisan, independent watchdog organization that researches and reports on various core issues within the contexts of civil liberties, political rights and democracy. Throughout 2020, Freedom House compiled reports and data on how repressive regimes have reacted to the pandemic, often at the expense of basic freedoms and public health.

Freedom House Report: “Democracy Under Lockdown”

According to a Freedom House report about the impact of COVID-19 on the global struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights has deteriorated in 80 countries since the start of COVID-19. The report is based on a survey of 398 experts from 105 countries. GQR conducted it in partnership with Freedom House. The research shows a trend of declining freedom worldwide for the past 14 years that COVID-19 has exacerbated. Countries that lack accountability in government are suffering the most due to failing institutions and the silencing of critics and opposition. Countries such as the United States, Denmark and Switzerland have also seen weakened democratic governance, even though Freedom House categorizes them as “free.” Even open societies face pressure to accept restrictions that may outlive the crisis and have a lasting effect on liberty.

5 Aspects of  a Weakened Democracy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. Abuse of Power: Governments use the pandemic to justify retaining special powers, including interfering with the justice system, unprecedented restrictions on political opponents and increased surveillance. According to the research, the police violently targeted civilians in at least 59 countries. In 66 countries, detentions and arrests have increased during the pandemic response.
  2. Protection of Vulnerable Groups: Marginalized communities disproportionately face restrictions and discrimination and those in power often blame them for spreading the virus. Governments that abuse marginalized groups have continued to do so while international attention focuses on the pandemic. Due to government shutdowns, civil society has a reduced capacity to enforce accountability for human rights violations.
  3. Transparency and Anticorruption: In 37% of the 65 countries that the research included, government transparency was one of the top three issues that affected the government’s pandemic response. The report also notes that 62% of respondents said they distrust information from their national government. Some governments, such as those in Nicaragua and Turkmenistan, have outright denied the existence of the virus. Others like Brazil and Tasmania have promoted unsafe or unverified treatments. Opportunities for corruption have grown as national governments quickly distribute funds to the public without mechanisms in place to monitor those funds.
  4. Free Media and Expression: Freedom House research found that at least 47% of countries in the world experienced restrictions on the media as a response to the pandemic. Journalists have also been the target of violence, harassment and intimidation. At least 48% of countries have experienced government restrictions on free speech and expression. In 25% of the “free” countries, as classified by Freedom House, national governments restricted news media.
  5. Credible Elections: COVID-19 disrupted national elections in nine countries between January and August 2020. The postponed elections often failed to meet democratic standards because of delayed rescheduling or lack of adequate preparation for secure voting.

Protecting Freedom Now and in the Future

In 2020, the International Labor Organization (ILO) predicted that there would be a 60% decline in earnings for nearly 2 billion informal workers in the world. It is also the first year since 1998 that there will be a rise in poverty. According to Larry Diamond from Stanford University, good governance within a democracy is essential for poverty reduction. Freedom House recommends five ways to protect democracy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Emergency restrictions should be transparent with support from the rule of law while being purposeful and proportional to the threat.
  2. Restrictions, especially ones impacting basic rights, should not last a long time and should have independent oversight.
  3. Surveillance that uses new technology must be scientifically necessary and have limits on duration and scope. An independent organization should also monitor government surveillance.
  4. Protecting freedom of the press is important. The population should have open access to the internet and people should combat false information with clear and factual government information.
  5. It is essential to adjust voter registration and polling station rules, encouraging distanced voting methods and only postponing elections as a last resort.

Citizens in at least 90 countries have had significant protests against government restrictions. Journalists have risked their freedom and safety to report on the pandemic and the oppressive actions that government entities have taken. However, the pushback against reduced freedom in the world and guidelines that international organizations like Freedom House set inspire hope for a turning point in democracy’s current trajectory.

– Charlotte Severns
Photo: Flickr

A Pandemic in a Refugee Camp
Since the Venezuelan refugee crisis began in 2015, over 360,000 Venezuelans have fled to Ecuador where they have sought political and economic asylum away from the tumultuous governing in Venezuela. In Ecuador, Venezuelan refugees have created camps and have attempted to rebuild their lives to little avail due to xenophobia, limited job opportunities and harsh living environments. While these harsh living conditions have continued for the Venezuelan refugees for years, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified hardships. Spending the pandemic in a refugee camp involving cramped and overflowing shelters has caused refugees to become extremely vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19.

No Access

For the hundreds of thousands of impoverished and unemployed Venezuelan refugees living in cramped refugee camps, it is challenging to social distance or to retrieve information on COVID-19. Moreover, with limited money focused on food, shelter and provisions, refugees have little left to spend on personal hygiene or personal protective equipment. As a result, refugees do not have access to much-needed medical supplies to keep safe from virus transmissions such as masks, sanitizers, gloves or vitamins. Consequently, transmission rates in refugee camps are disproportionately higher than their urban Ecuadorian city counterparts, yet the medical care is disproportionately lower.

As hospitals in Ecuador have become overrun by sick patients and Ecuadorian first responders have become absorbed with endless virus-related emergencies, Ecuadorian healthcare workers have had to choose which patients they will actually provide medical care to. This decision oftentimes coincides with heavy racism against Venezuelan refugees. Consequently, first responders have often chosen to respond to the rich Ecuadorian citizens living in urbanized areas over the far away, impoverished Venezuelan refugee camps. Similarly, Ecuadoran doctors prefer to provide medical care to the more affluent Ecuadorian citizens who can surely pay their hospital bills rather than the refugees. In turn, Venezuelan refugees are not always able to use Ecuadorian healthcare and instead have to fend for themselves without medical supplies, information about the virus or the ability to social distance.

A Solution for Refugees Surviving a Pandemic in a Refugee Camp

Because solving xenophobia in Ecuador or empowering and enriching refugees could not rapidly happen in time so that they could receive proper treatment during the pandemic, refugees had to take matters into their own hands by looking to new initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Venezuelan refugee communities in Ecuador developed the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System in an attempt to rapidly discover COVID-19 cases in refugee camps. The system can detect individuals with COVID-19 for quarantine purposes and consequently reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission amongst refugee communities.

Once the system detects them, patients receive information about their diagnosis along with referrals for proper treatment. The system reports all cases to the national health authorities so that Venezuelan refugees can identify who they were in contact with so that all parties can undergo quarantine and testing for the virus.

How it Works

Since launching in July 2020, the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System has detected hundreds of cases and has prevented the further spread of the virus for thousands of refugees. By identifying a suspect COVID-19 case, the system is able to assess a localized community point of potential exposure for other refugees. Once discovered, the system registers all information upon a public health database that records exposed individuals and provides them with information and medical treatment for the virus. Furthermore, the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System records if a COVID-19 patient or exposed individual has access to personal protective equipment, has preexisting conditions or lives in overcrowded environments that would make them and their neighbors more susceptible to the virus.

UNHCR taught six refugee camps across Ecuador the process of contact tracing. Trained refugees can utilize the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System. This results in using telephone hotlines, community visits by healthcare workers and providing medical provisions. The system is curbing COVID-19 spread in a pandemic in a refugee camp for vulnerable Venezuelans who would have very few medical opportunities otherwise.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr