COVID, climate and conflict conspire to push up poverty

Commentary, Online Exclusive Feature / 2020

COVID, climate and conflict conspire to push up poverty

by Sonia Elks, Thomson Reuters Foundation

October 15, 2020

“A triple threat of coronavirus, climate change and conflict means an ambitious goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 looks increasingly unlikely,” said the World Bank in its Poverty and Shared Prosperity report.

7 October 2020 — Extreme poverty will rise for the first time this century as COVID-19 hammers the global economy, as stated by the World Bank, predicting that the pandemic could spawn 115 million ‘new poor’ this year alone.

Coronavirus is also changing the profile of the extreme poor, with analysis finding the new poor were more likely to be urban, better educated, and less likely to work in agriculture.

“This is the worst setback we have witnessed in a generation,” Carolina Sanchez-Paramo, global director of the World Bank, said in a conference call. “Action … needs to be swift, significant and sustained if we are to effectively respond to the urgent crisis we face at the moment, but also remain focused on some critical long-term development challenges.”

The world had made steady advances in recent decades on reducing extreme poverty — defined by the World Bank as living on $1.90 a day or less — but progress was already slowing before the pandemic struck. With recessions hitting poor and vulnerable groups the hardest, 2020 will see three years of gains against extreme poverty wiped out at a stroke, the World Bank said.

Eight out of ten of the extra people pushed into poverty in 2020 will be from middle-income nations, researchers predicted. South Asia was set to be the hardest-hit region with up to 57 million more pushed into extreme poverty this year as a result of the pandemic, the report said, followed by sub-Saharan Africa with up to 40 million extra people affected.

The impacts of the pandemic will “almost certainly” be felt in most countries through 2030, said the World Bank. It also highlighted emerging risk “hot spots” — many in sub-Saharan Africa — facing multiple threats to livelihoods from coronavirus, climate impacts, and conflict. These combined threats will put a goal to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2030 “beyond reach” without swift and substantial policy measures, it warned.

“It may take years for extreme poverty levels to sink back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Nilima Gulrajani, a senior research fellow from the Overseas Development Institute. “It’s clear that those people who are most vulnerable to the crisis tend to be those who have been marginalised. Now is a real opportunity to try to galvanise public attention towards a recovery that does justice to those who are at the margins of society.”

READ MORE: Cities and a Circular Economy After the Virus


To read the complete article, get your hardcopy at our online shop/newsstands/major bookstores; subscribe to FuturArc or download the FuturArc App to read the issues.