Things That Matter

The Coronavirus Has Killed Thousands Of People And Now Many Fear It Could Push Millions More Into Extreme Poverty

Around the world, governments have taken action to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. Yet more than four million people have been infected and the death count has surpassed 300,000 – and continues to grow.

As the virus continues to claim victims, many are also worried about the economic fallout from this global pandemic. Many of the world’s poorest countries have made huge advances in pulling millions out from poverty over the past decade. But now, tens of millions are at risk of being pushed right back into it

The economic devastation the pandemic wreaks on the ultra-poor could ultimately kill more people than the virus itself.

Across the globe, lockdowns and social distancing measures have erased incomes and made it difficult for people to afford even basic food items – especially in the poorest parts of the world.

The United Nations predicts that a global recession will reverse a three-decade trend in rising living standards and plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day.

“I feel like we’re watching a slow-motion train wreck as it moves through the world’s most fragile countries,” said Nancy Lindborg, president of the nonprofit U.S. Institute of Peace, in an interview with the LA Times.

Mexico in particular is worried about the effects on its poorest citizens.

Over the past decade, Mexico has made enormous progress is helping nearly 30 million Mexicans escape extreme poverty. But now, all of that progress is in jeopardy.

The economic fallout from coronavirus could add nine million people to Mexico’s poor, according to a government study released on Monday. The report also calls for aid like pensions and insurance, in a country that provides no federal jobless benefits.

With businesses forced to close to help stop the spread of the disease, more than 346,000 formal jobs were lost between mid-March and early April, the government said, with further layoffs expected as the economy shrinks. That’s not including the millions of jobs in the informal economy that have also been lost.

Mexico also relies heavily on money sent from relatives working in the United States. With the U.S. economy also heavily battered, remittances are beginning to dry up.

“Families are not receiving their remittances,” said Abel Barrera Hernández, an anthropologist in Mexico’s impoverished Guerrero state. 

The consequences are being felt across Latin America.

Credit: Moises Castillo / Getty

In Guatemala, villagers are begging for food along highways by waving pieces of white cloth at passing drivers. In Colombia, the hungriest hang red flags from their homes in hope of donations.

In Venezuela, which for years has been roiled by food scarcities, soaring inflation and street protests calling for the removal of President Nicolás Maduro, life was miserable for many before the pandemic, and it has only gotten worse.

Among the most vulnerable groups are Indigenous communities – which were already struggling before the pandemic.

Already poor, Mexico’s Indigenous people have been forced to face the virus with few defenses. Although official infection rates have remained low, the Coronavirus is having an outsized impact on Indigenous communities across the country.

One man, Samuel, 54, from the Zoque community, committed suicide after learning about his Covid-19 diagnosis. He hung himself from a tree where his body remained for several hours because the community didn’t have any protective gear to help bring his body down – a grim illustration of the plight of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Some ethnic groups have taken their own protective measures, such as shutting off access to their territories.

“For now it is the only way to stop contagion in these communities, where there is also a lack of hospitals and medicine,” said Adelfo Regino, director of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, or INPI in Spanish.

All of this dire economic news comes as much of the world has made huge gains in helping communities overcome poverty.

Credit: @WorldBank / Twitter

Since the Great Recession, the world has made huge progress in reducing poverty around the globe. In fact, over the last three decades more than 1 billion people – or 13% of the world’s population – have risen out of extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. 

Though the gains were largely driven by the economic gains of China and India, countries around the world have seen success. Across Latin America, Brazil and Mexico have largely driven the gains. Mexico is now the world’s 11th largest economy and has added millions of people to its middle class.

But Coronavirus poses a major threat to these economic miracles. If the Coronavirus has shown us anything, it’s the interconnection between all of the world’s countries.

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