COVID-19's Impact on Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a nation in recovery. As with many countries throughout the globe, COVID-19 has left a lasting mark on the West African nation. In a June to October 2020 survey that Innovations for Poverty Action in Sierra Leone implemented, nearly 50% of respondents reported income reductions and about 60% of respondents reported depleting their savings to secure food for the household. However, in the wake of COVID-19’s impact on Sierra Leone, some sectors are regaining strength.

The After-Effects of COVID-19

Sierra Leone went into lockdown quickly in response to the initial outbreak of the novel coronavirus within its borders in March 2020, declaring a state of emergency prior to any confirmation of infection. Rapid policy changes followed, restricting travel and putting into place extensive testing programs which, coupled with a high level of social compliance, brought the infection and death rates to an early plateau. This impressive effort in containment came at a great economic cost, however, with the nation’s GDP contracting around 3.1% in 2020.

Revitalizing the Economy

Forecasts predict that Sierra Leone’s GDP will grow roughly 4% by the end of 2021, eclipsing the contraction of 2020, with further acceleration predictions in 2022. This projected growth links to a renewed demand for exports, particularly in the country’s mining sector.

World Bank experts state that sustaining this growth will require structural reform, strong monetary policy and a robust vaccination program, allowing businesses and employees alike to return to full-capacity operations both quickly and safely.

To that end, “the World Bank approved an $8.5 million grant” in June 2021 to further vaccination efforts in Sierra Leone, building upon an earlier $7.5 million monetary injection provided by the International Development Association in 2020 to shore up economic deficits resulting from COVID-19’s impact on Sierra Leone. Additionally, The Sierra Leone Central Bank announced a redenomination of the national currency in an effort to combat inflation. However, not all efforts for economic regrowth fall within the confines of the financial sector.

US Assistance

Sierra Leone saw a marked increase in poverty as a result of wage depression and job loss stemming from the pandemic, particularly in urban areas. The remediation of economic damages in these areas is an important step in breathing new life into the Sierra Leonean economy.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government-funded agency dedicating efforts to international growth and development, is working to do just that. The MCC completed a $44.4 million project “to improve the water and electrical services in and around Freetown,” Sierra Leone’s capital and largest urban center, in March 2021. The MCC has recently begun talks with government representatives and the private sector to make further, larger investments in the nation’s growth in the form of an economic compact.

Further Help for Citizens in Need

In August 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced a new program specifically focusing on aiding women and youth affected by COVID’s impact on Sierra Leone. The program will provide grants of $60,000 to $140,000 for distribution by NGOs to women and youth-operated businesses in both rural and urban areas that were forced to scale down or cease operations during the pandemic. The aim is to bring these businesses back into the marketplace and stimulate the local economy. These efforts work in concert with Sierra Leone’s internal efforts to help the nation get back onto its feet in the post-pandemic environment.

Mining Sector Leads Growth

With a return to pre-pandemic GDP levels in sight, Sierra Leone hopes to continue growth in 2022. Forecasts predict the nation’s GDP to grow by as much as 5% by 2022, outpacing its sub-Saharan neighbors, which could grow to 1% to 2% less over the same period. The country’s mining sector is a strong driver of the national economy accounting for 3% of national employment in 2018 as well as “65% of export earnings.” The mining sector is on track for a 34% overall increase, led by a predicted 850% increase in demand for iron ore over 2020.

With such a major market component leading the way, other economic areas may expect revitalization as well. In the agricultural sector, employing about two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s workforce, the government encourages mining companies’ investment in communities local to their operations, furthering citizens’ access to food as well as gainful employment. Predictions estimate that the domestic construction and energy industries, both with close links to mining infrastructure, may see growth as well. This combined push for economic renewal assures better days to come for the sub-Saharan nation.

A Bright Future Ahead

Through ongoing foreign support and careful economic measures, Sierra Leone hopes to breathe new life into industries ravaged by COVID-19. With a renewed encouragement of domestic business, the nation looks to bring its citizens forward into a thriving economy and a safer, healthier society. The culmination of these efforts is proving clear less than two years after the nation’s first lockdown with a strong reemergence from the trials of COVID-19’s impact on Sierra Leone, promising a brighter tomorrow for the Sierra Leonean people.

– Alexander Diaz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

School Meals Coalition
During the Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the United Nations launched the School Meals Coalition. The coalition emerged as a response to the African Union’s March 2021 communiqué regarding the need for a global school meal program.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Food Insecurity

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing food insecurity among school children worldwide. Food insecurity severely affects children living in low to high-income countries. School closures amid COVID-19 and a lack of resources have resulted in schoolchildren being unable to access meals they previously received from schools. To make matters worse, the incentive to attend school and receive an education frequently diminishes as food insecurity grows. The School Meals Coalition aims to prevent growing food insecurity in schools. The coalition is seeking to ensure that every child receives access to healthy school meals by 2030 to address the effects of the pandemic and improve the quality of life for all children.

How Hunger Affects Education

More than 1 billion children attend school worldwide. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 338 million children relied on school meal programs. Unfortunately, there still remained 73 million children in 60 lower-income countries without access to these essential school meals. COVID-19 has only increased the number of hungry children globally. At the peak of the pandemic in April 2020, school closures meant that 370 million children lost access to their one guaranteed meal for the day.

Even as schools reopened in 2021, 150 million children continued to go without school nutrition. Access to food stabilizes communities. Conversely, poverty and hunger often cause students to leave school. Without food stability, students lose the incentive to attend school. Ultimately, lack of education and poverty increases child labor and leaves young girls vulnerable to early marriages and gender-based violence.

UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2019 report found that undernutrition produces various obstacles for children. Malnutrition leads to susceptibility to infection and poor cognition and development. In 2019, 149 million children younger than 5 years old suffered from stunting and close to 50 million children endured wasting. The report concluded that nutrition plays a vital role in child development and beyond, stating that hunger “threatens the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations.” If left unchecked, malnutrition can hinder the livelihoods of people across the world.

What is the School Meals Coalition?

Spearheaded by Iceland, Finland, France and the World Food Programme (WFP), the School Meals Coalition faces a challenging task. In its entirety, the coalition includes 40 member states, U.N. agencies, academic groups, multilateral organizations and more. The European and African Unions prioritize the coalition’s success. For the alliance to succeed, it needs to repair pandemic-induced losses by 2023, reach previously missed students from low-income countries and improve its strategy for school meal programs by 2030.

Although the task appears daunting, the program is seeking to make sustainable and manageable changes to existing systems. For instance, the School Meals Coalition will equip schools worldwide to rely on healthy, local and indigenous foods the communities prepare. By providing communities the tools for school meal programs, the coalition will utilize a “holistic approach to child well-being through the integration of education, health and social protection.”

Thus far, the coalition has established initiatives to set the program in motion. Such initiatives include a research consortium, a financing task force and an advocacy and outreach task force. Furthermore, the coalition intends to create a peer-to-peer network to share strategies and a monitoring process that the World Food Programme leads. The WFP’s annual “State of School Feeding Worldwide” publication will look at the coalition’s progress.

The Coalition’s Impact Beyond the Classroom

The School Meals Coalition will inevitably impact more than just nutrition for school children. Ultimately, the coalition will help to improve and stabilize communities and food systems. Programs like the WFP’s Home-Grown School Feeding Program will emerge across low to high-income countries. When schools utilize food that communities produce and prepare, women and local businesses receive equitable and equal opportunities. Not only will students receive a quality education with suitable learning conditions but their families will also encounter job opportunities and learn sustainable food and business practices.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

Covid -19 in Malawi
Malawi, a landlocked southeastern nation in Africa, faces hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of October 2021, COVID-19 in Malawi say a rise in over 61,700 COVID-19 cases and over 2,200 deaths. The biggest spike that Malawi experienced began on January 25, 2021, with a seven-week average case count of 994. The cases diminished significantly by September 2021, with most 7-week average counts bordering 40 cases. Already deep in poverty, Malawians certainly did not benefit from imposed lockdowns and a rising unemployment rate.

Effects on Poverty

Malawi continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 222 of 225 countries in terms of the greatest GDP per capita, with 526.93 in December 2020. Additionally, Malawi’s poverty rates can be attributed to its economy, which employs about 80% of the population in the agricultural sector. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected most urban areas and forced services and businesses to terminate.

The last demographic statistics of Malawi dates back to 2016 and recorded a poverty rate of 69.2%, which increased from the previous statistic of 62.4% in 1997. This means that this population lives with an income averaging below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day. Though no definitive statistics of Malawi’s current poverty rate exist, experts estimate it to be near or greater than the last census of 69.2% due to the unemployment rates caused by COVID-19. The unemployment rate of Malawi increased from 5.6% in 2019 to 6% in 2020, accounting for the jobs terminated by COVID-19.

Economic Development

As mentioned previously, the agriculture business in Malawi accounts for 80% of jobs. However, agricultural production is not necessarily abundant. By September 2020, over 2.6 million Malawians suffered food shortages from a combination of COVID-19 and weather complications.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malawi experienced economic development with 3.5% economic growth in 2018 and 4.4% in 2019. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) was created in 2017 to aid Malawi in several different sectors, including industry, health and poverty. However, the pandemic abruptly paused the project, and some fear that the effects of COVID-19 in Malawi will reverse the progress made in previous years. The Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM) predicts long-term and widespread negative effects from the pandemic, even though measures such as the Emergency Liquidity Assistance should mitigate some of the damage. If the effects do not worsen by the end of COVID-19 in Malawi, the nation will likely be able to reconstruct its economy with the 5-year installment plans within the MGDS.

Social Conditions

One of the greatest worldwide challenges of the pandemic continues to be providing schooling for students at home. With Malawi’s poor standards for education, where only 8% of students finish secondary school, the pandemic posed a great challenge. In a survey of 100 parents of school-attending children, 86% reported that they had no contact with any teachers or the school throughout the lockdown. Additionally, there is a lack of school materials in Malawi, making learning at home even more difficult.

Another social issue due to COVID-19 in Malawi is the rise in suicide rates. The lack of professional services available for mental health in Malawi resulted in drastically increased suicide rates. In 2020, the Malawi police service reported an increase of up to 57% during the pandemic. Additionally, statistics found that 92% of suicides in Malawi during this period were men, with 8% being women. Certain psychologists associate this with the loss of jobs and rising poverty levels in Malawi. These struggles place intense pressure on the men of a household to provide for their family during drastic times.

All Is Not Lost

Though it may seem like the current conditions in Malawi are beyond hope, there is still a chance that Malawi can recover from the pandemic and return to its course of economic improvement. With COVID-19 cases lowering, Malawi may be seeing the end of the pandemic. Also, the implementation of The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy will help with Malawi’s economic reset and assist the country in its recovery.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikimedia

 

Impact of COVID-19 on Mali
Mali, an agriculturally economic-based country, has faced several challenges throughout its history. The impact of COVID-19 Mali has greatly affected the country as well. Challenges in Mali, like an economic recession heightened due to COVID-19 and multiple military coups, have pushed thousands of citizens into poverty but global organizations are aiming to mitigate the nation’s challenges.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Mali

Though the COVID-19 numbers are significantly lower in Mali than in other countries, the overall “strained” healthcare systems throughout developing countries in Africa have grand economic impacts. In Mali, for example, cotton production decreased by 79% in 2020 due to lower international prices and “disputes” over the distribution of fertilizer to farmers, as a result of the pandemic.

Mali’s population includes more than 20 million people and is located in Western Africa, landlocked between five countries. The pandemic caused international trade to decline in the nation and therefore slowed domestic revenue, causing the country to enter a recession. Public debt in the country increased by more than 44% for the nation’s overall GDP. According to a Business Pulse Survey, more than 83% of enterprises interviewed in the country lost revenue in 2020 and 12% had to shut down.

The health, security, social and political crises in 2020 caused the nation’s poverty levels to increase by 5%. More than 900,000 individuals ended up in poverty in Mali during the pandemic.

“Widespread” poverty exists in Mali with almost half or 49% living in extreme poverty. This is the third youngest country in the world where the mean age of the population is 16.2 years. Rapid population growth with more than five children per woman in Mali contributes to the rising levels of poverty because there are so many people living in confined spaces with limited access to daily needs.

In addition to the economic recession, international support was slow in Mali after another military coup. On May 24, 2021, military forces arrested Mali’s transitional President and Prime Minister after their announcement of a new cabinet did not include previous higher-up individuals who expected to serve in the new government. Almost 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers are stationed in Mali for fear of growing ties with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and no one is currently running the country “effectively,” according to The Washington Post.

How Mali’s Government is Providing Aid

The government plans to issue COVID-19 relief assistance to its citizens, like implementing tax breaks and increasing social spending by 100 billion CFAF. It plans to allocate a COVID-19 fund of 500 billion CFAF, amounting to roughly $898,000. The report issued from the World Bank does not specifically outline how the tax breaks will undergo distribution to citizens, however, the report suggests that the government might have to reduce “non-essential expenditures” to reallocate funds to its citizens.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization aiming to provide clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to “refugees and displaced people,” is aiming to provide increased resources for citizens’ economic well-being, health and education. The committee intends to support public health services already in place in Mali to sustain the healthcare services and create public health “structures.” The programs included in their goals will focus on addressing “recurrent” food shortages, asset losses and poor harvests due to climate “conditions and conflict.”

In 2012, IRC aided Mali community members through outlets like loan assistance and “income-generating activities,” to women, in particular, providing clean drinking water, treatment kits, water rehabilitation sites and health care supplies. IRC also facilitated community health training for workers in the area.

The Feed the Future Initiative

Other programs, like the Feed the Future initiative under USAID, address poverty in Mali through the investment of cereals and livestock. These two agricultural products provide the most food security, nutrition and poverty reduction for the country’s people. More than 400,000 Malian farmers applied Feed the Future concepts to their work and increased technology or management practices to further their production.

The World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme (WFP), a food assistance program that is part of the United Nations, also supplied food assistance in 2019 to more than 700,000 individuals. About 18% of the population or 3.6 million people experience food insecurity in the nation every year since a 2012 crisis occurred in Mali. The U.S. Agency for International Development, also partnered with WFP, established “in-kind” food and cash transfers for households affected by challenges like displacement, conflict and natural disasters as of May 6, 2020.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental to many of the world’s poorest countries but social programs have come to light during the pandemic to help impoverished countries. The number of social protection programs increased from 103 in 2015 to 1,141 by December 2020 to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on Mali and other developing nations.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in New Zealand
New Zealand is a developed country in the continent of Oceania, with a population of about 5 million inhabitants. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand has maintained a low number of deaths and cases. The following will present reasons for why New Zealand has had this success, along with ways in how the pandemic affected the country.

Statistics

The total toll of cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand has remained low throughout the pandemic. With a total of 4,352 overall cases and 27 deaths as of September 2021, New Zealand has a fairly low rate of cases.

Since the start of the global pandemic in 2020, New Zealand has been very cautious in taking preventative measures to avoid spreading the virus. The country banned foreigners from entering from China the day after the announcement of the virus, and imposed a 14-day quarantine period for any citizens entering the country. As the course of the pandemic progressed, New Zealand also placed a ban on several other countries where the virus was most prominent. The primary reason for New Zealand’s success in reducing cases was their quick response to preventing the virus and keeping their citizens safe.

In addition to this preventative method, New Zealand’s government has also established a concrete plan in eliminating the virus from their country. This method has once again proven effective in New Zealand due to their quick decision-making. Their elimination plan was in the works as early as July 2020. Though there is no concrete definition for a COVID-19 elimination plan, it is clear that New Zealand prioritized restricting foreigners’ entry into the country, particularly those from high-case countries. As the surveillance of New Zealand’s low COVID-19 case number continues, it is likely that the country will be among the first to re-open completely and successfully.

Economy

The most significant effect of COVID-19 in New Zealand originated in its economy. The primary effect on New Zealand’s economy occurred in its agriculture industry. Since New Zealand is a single island, it is relatively isolated from other major countries, making it reliant on its own resources during crises. However, when the pandemic began, a major problem occurred in its agricultural sector. Firstly, there was a surplus of pigs due to the closure of butcheries and other non-essential meat distributing industries. Following this, around 2.5 million bees because workers were not able to go to their location to feed them.

In addition to these examples, New Zealand’s unemployment rate also reached a maximum of 5.3% during the pandemic, which is now beginning to regulate itself. However, New Zealand’s government has claimed that its intense closure measures will benefit its economy eventually by making it one of the first countries to relieve all restrictions successfully.

In conclusion, New Zealand has successfully implemented COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, thus making their plan beneficial to their population. Though COVID-19 in New Zealand had taken a toll on the population, their rapid prevention methods ensured their success. There is a significant chance that New Zealand’s economy will quickly recover from the pandemic, leaving other countries to learn from their success.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Unsplash

Nepal’s COVID-19 ResponseCurrently, approximately 26.4 million refugees worldwide have had to flee hardship in their countries of origin. Though international laws protect them, refugees are often denied basic human rights such as protection from violence, stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. Access to reliable healthcare is critical to preventing diseases, treating underlying conditions, providing medicinal resources and offering immunizations. Because refugees are often unable to join national health plans in the country in which they settle, lack of access to healthcare is a common experience. Nepal’s COVID-19 response intends to include vulnerable and marginalized populations such as refugees.

How COVID-19 Threatens Refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for reliable healthcare access among refugee populations, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many live in densely populated areas and lack face masks and adequate sanitation, such as handwashing facilities. This increases their risk of contracting the virus. Many have also lost their sources of income and are unable to pay for medical care. In addition to the high rates of poverty refugee populations experience, being too sick to work or caring for sick loved ones only compounds this issue.

The world’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is incumbent on ensuring that all populations can limit case numbers and treat the infected. While the best way to mitigate the virus is to provide vaccinations, many countries are not yet offering them to refugees. As a result, many refugee populations live in a constant state of crisis and are unable to return to normalcy at the same rate as the general public.

The Nepalese Example

There are now more than 19,000 refugees in Nepal, most of them from Bhutan and Tibet. These communities experience high rates of poverty and are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Nepal’s COVID-19 response has been markedly different from other countries in the region as it was “the first country in Asia and the Pacific to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees.” Starting March 7, 2021, refugees older than 65 were eligible to receive the vaccine along with other eligible citizens. As of March 24, 2021, 668 refugees had received the vaccine and many more are set to be vaccinated as the country obtains additional doses.

Nepalese officials have made it clear that they believe ensuring the health and safety of the entire country means providing healthcare for everyone. Nepal’s COVID-19 response is unique because Nepal is deliberate in ensuring that refugees have access to healthcare that is on par with the rest of the country. Equitable access to vaccinations remains an important step to ensuring the country is able to fully recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Next Steps

Nepal’s COVID-19 response sets an example of measures that other nations should take. As other countries observe Nepal’s vaccination procedures, refugees and other marginalized communities exist in an important context. Organizations like CARE Nepal advocate for a vaccine rollout with “the most vulnerable groups” being prioritized.

Nepal is far from the only country in the world, or even in the Asian Pacific region, with a large refugee population. All populations must have access to adequate healthcare to ensure everyone can recover from the COVID-19 crisis as quickly and effectively as possible. Ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine is one of the best ways for countries to achieve this.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Singapore
Like most of the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore has undergone a health and economic crisis while battling the novel coronavirus. However, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Singapore has disproportionately affected Singapore’s low-wage migrant workforce as the country continues the fight against the virus and the race to distribute vaccines.

COVID-19 Within Singapore’s Low-Wage Workforce

As early as the fall of 2020, Singapore seemed to return to life as normal with restaurants reopening and malls filling with crowds. However, the nation’s low-wage workforce, which included primarily migrant workers, faced a COVID-19 surge and a battle of its own.

Singapore’s low-wage workforce consists of more than 300,000 foreign construction and manufacturing workers from countries such as India and Bangladesh. These workers live in crowded dorms throughout their work period where COVID-19 quickly becomes rampant. Migrant workers accounted for nearly 95% of the country’s novel coronavirus cases as of September 8, 2020. With the placement of quarantine orders on these workers after numerous outbreaks, many had to stay in hot, overcrowded rooms without ventilation. As a result, the workers became exposed to the virus.

These workers have been extremely vulnerable to both the novel coronavirus and economic fallout due to factors such as overcrowded dorms, “hazardous working conditions,” low pay and lack of access to social protection. Many workers did not receive full wages throughout the quarantine order and faced high health costs when eventually returning home.

Poverty in East Asia: The Effects of the COVID-19

Despite recent post-COVID-19 economic recoveries in many East Asian countries, the World Bank reported that emerging post-pandemic recovery is and will continue to be uneven as the country’s most impoverished bear the brunt of the COVID-19 economic crisis. Poverty in East Asia and the Pacific stopped declining for the first time in more than 20 years as an estimated 32 million citizens across the region were unable to escape poverty as a result of unequal access to social, medical, educational and technological support.

A Future of Hope and a United Fight

Hope for Singapore’s citizens continues to come in the form of vaccines. More than a third of the country’s 5.7 million citizens have been fully vaccinated and nearly half of the population received at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot as of June 19, 2021. The government plans to complete vaccinations by the end of 2021.

Additionally, the World Bank Group has begun numerous relief programs in Eastern Asia and the Pacific region. Part of the organization’s $125 billion fund will go toward combating the “health, economic and social impacts” of the novel coronavirus globally and the World Bank Group plans to establish COVID-19 fast-track facilities. The World Bank Group intends to provide emergency funding for medical supplies and medical training while also working to strengthen national public health systems.

Returning to “Normal”

As Singapore eases back into normality as its population becomes vaccinated, a new awareness of social inequality is spreading domestically and internationally. A BBC article from September 18, 2020, states that the crisis exposes a “pandemic of inequality” within the country. Meanwhile, a foreign policy piece, published on May 6, 2020, describes Singapore’s lack of action in combating the economic crisis as a failure to see migrant workers as people.

While inequalities and poverty in Singapore have worsened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, activists around the world and across the nation are advocating for better conditions and awareness as the reopening process occurs. Organizations such as the World Bank Group, the Human Rights Campaign and Amnesty International are continuing to provide aid and advocacy for extremely impoverished people in Singapore. As the country climbs out of the COVID-19 pandemic, a future of hope and awareness presents itself. There is hope that the distribution of vaccines, education about the crisis and international funding will reduce the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Singapore.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

poverty in the Philippines
In the Philippines, mental health problems for those who are disabled have recently skyrocketed. As COVID-19 spread, disabled citizens living in the Philippines suffered from a lack of treatment and heightened health concerns. Furthermore, inequality rose, as there was a lack of healthcare data to help inform and protect the disabled. Disability and poverty in the Philippines are connected. Fortunately, the government is taking steps to help the disabled communities of the Philippines, with the hopes of decreasing poverty and increasing protection.

Poverty and Disability

Approximately 15% of the world’s population experiences a form of disability. In the Philippines, the 2016 National Disability Prevalence Survey (NDPS) revealed that 12% of Filipinos 15 and older suffer from severe disabilities. Furthermore, 47% of people have moderate conditions and 23% have mild disabilities. Compared to the global average, these rates are high. In part, this is due to the fact that developing countries are more likely to have a higher prevalence of disabilities.

COVID-19 had a major impact on the accessibility of healthcare for the disabled. The pandemic placed limits on those who needed sign language interpreters, braille translation and handicap services. Those with medical disabilities needed to be extra cautious as to not endanger themselves by contracting COVID-19. In many cases, poverty in the Philippines is related to disability. The disabled face a higher likelihood of poverty and lower rates of education, health and employment. Those with a secure job may also receive less pay than non-disabled persons despite the funds necessary for living with a disability.

Financial Support

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, financial support is being provided to people with disabilities in the Philippines. In Cebu City, the government provided financial aid in the form of income, supplies and resources in May 2021. Essentials such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and medicine were given to eligible people in need. Each household received P5,000 in monetary assistance, covering January to May of 2021, a period of time where no income was given.

Josh Maglasang is one example of the program’s success. As someone with a disability, he expressed his happiness and relief regarding the recent financial assistance. He acknowledged that monthly payments will help him cover medical costs. Moreover, he was specifically grateful to receive the overdue assistance. Recent exposure to poverty in the Philippines is helping initiatives such as this one pass.

Government Measures

Disability legislation has aided the disabled in the Philippines for many years. The Magna Carta for Disabled Persons Act was passed in 2007, allowing all disabled citizens to receive a minimum 20% discount from stores and services. Dental and medical care, hotels, theater and travel are all included in this coverage.

Furthermore, in regards to education, the disabled have the right to primary, secondary and all higher levels of schooling, with the proper financial assistance granted. This comes in the form of aid packages, scholarships, full coverage and book and supply financing. For those who are physically or mentally unable to work, rights to benefits from the Social Security System (SSS) and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) are provided.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, disability aid is particularly relevant. Regarding disability and poverty in the Philippines, providing care and support for disabled citizens will make a major difference in the success of the country. Strengthening the Mental Health Act is necessary to improve the quality of life for those who are disabled. Recent improvements in medical support, therapy and pandemic relief mark the beginning of helping those in need.

Selena Soto
Photo: Flickr

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