The financial toll of Covid-19 in Colombia, Kenya and the growing world: poverty and starvation

Even in the richest countries in the world, the pandemic has devastated millions of people. Many families are lagging behind on rent and eviction; Lines at food banks are at record highs; Mental health is in crisis.

Developing countries faced the same challenges with far fewer resources to accommodate them. How did your people fare? There have been many attempts to model or estimate the answer, but it’s not easy. The global economic recession triggered by Covid-19 is different from previous recessions. Some industries (like tourism) have been wiped out completely while others are doing fine. In developing countries, most people work in informal economies that are difficult for the government to measure. For many countries we only have aggregated data on consumption and income, which are difficult to understand how daily life changes in poor households.

A new paper aims to solve this problem as directly as possible – by asking tens of thousands of people in developing countries how Covid-19 was for them. The paper by Edward Miguel and UC Berkeley from UC Berkeley and Dennis Egger from the World Bank and more than a dozen co-authors published in Science Advances on Friday gives us a fresh look at life through 2020 in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso , Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, the Philippines, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

In short: it was terrible.

About the 16 In the areas studied (several areas were surveyed in some countries), a median of 70 percent of households reported a decrease in income. 45 percent had to miss or cut down on meals. Only 11 percent had access to any kind of aid from any government or NGO, and in some communities it was zero percent. Measures of economic activity such as business income suggest that it has fallen by half in some areas.

“We find that the economic shock in these countries – where most people rely on casual work to earn enough to support their families – are creating deprivations that are likely to result in excessive future morbidity, mortality, and other adverse effects lead to longer-term consequences. ” The paper concludes, citing research showing that children born in times of mass starvation have lifelong negative consequences.

This research complements a growing body of research with a depressing conclusion: 2020 revolved around years of progress in combating global poverty that plunged many poor communities back into food insecurity and extremely low incomes. Talking to thousands of people on the phone, the study describes in greater detail how this overall impact will affect individual households.

As the pandemic extends into year two, preventing mass starvation in affected areas should be a major priority of aid – or we will likely see the effects of the pandemic follow today’s hungry children for a lifetime.

The poll of thousands of people in developing countries stated

The data in the Science Advances paper was collected via telephone survey. Cell phones are almost ubiquitous in the lower-middle-income countries where researchers focused their efforts. Even poor families usually have one. Even so, randomly dialing phone numbers as was done for seven of the 16 Samples entering the paper skew the survey in the direction of the wealthy. To make this effect less of a problem, previous studies took the other nine samples from population groups, including “formal and informal sector workers, farm workers, small businesses, refugees, migrants and their families”.

From April 2020, researchers asked how households are affected by Covid-19 and the economic impact of global disruptions.

It was bad as early as April: “48% of rural Kenyan households, 69% of landless agricultural households in Bangladesh and 87% of rural households in Sierra Leone were forced to miss meals or reduce portion sizes to cope with the problem Crisis “, the paper notes, which represents a much higher rate of food insecurity than usual in the region – An increase of 38 percent in adults who do not eat meals and an increase of 69 percent in children in Kenya. In rural Kenya, where more in-depth surveys have been carried out, there are also signs of an increase in violence against women and children, although the sample was too small to draw confident conclusions.

The effects were very different in the individual countries and population groups in a country. In some communities, only 11 percent of people reported a drop in income. in some it was 87 percent. But nowhere was left unscathed, and in the average community, the damage from the pandemic was widespread and severe.

The scariest part? When the pandemic is over, these effects will be likely persist. First, many hungry households spend or sell all of their wealth to get food. That said, when the pandemic ends, they will have lost years or decades of assets and investments in productivity, such as B. Cars and tools for agriculture.

Research has also shown that famine and economic disruption “follow” children who have been deprived of food throughout their lives in the womb and in early childhood. These children become less healthy, finish less school and earn less money. “As a result, for LMICs [lower- and middle-income countries]The economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 can turn into a disaster for public health and society, as can the pandemic itself, ”argues the paper.

It is not too late to do something. Aid now could go a long way towards reducing food insecurity and ensuring that people in distress get the resources they need. Unfortunately, NGOs and aid organizations are overwhelmed and severely constrained by concerns about the spread of the virus through programs that provide direct aid. Giving people money works better, and of course, ending the pandemic through a global vaccination program will work best – although urgent help is still needed to restore the savings and assets spent after families were starved.

The picture painted by household surveys is not too different from what seemed likely, given what we already knew about slumps in economic activity. However, we should not allow the fact that these results are not unexpected to lead to policy neglect. The death toll from this pandemic should include not only those who died from the virus, but also those who died of starvation when the world fought it – and that death toll can, as well as the death toll, by taking decisive action flipped coordinated action.

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