To beat coronavirus we must also fight poverty

Global, co-ordinated action is needed to help developing nations carry out an adequate response

Salvadorean Luis Angel Carcamo, 60, who is homeless, wears a protective mask against the spread of the new coronavirus as he plays chess against himself on a street of the historic center of San Salvador, on April 11, 2020. / AFP / MARVIN RECINOS
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The coronavirus has infected more than 1.8 million people, and claimed over 100,000 lives. As the pandemic rages and much of the world continues to remain in some form of lockdown, there has been an ongoing debate about the ensuing economic impact on the global economy. Millions are at risk of losing out on their employment, and GDP growth is set to roll back to levels unseen in many decades.

While the plight of the world’s poorest has received considerable attention in the media and among activists, it remains a major challenge. According to a recent report by the charity Oxfam, as many as half a billion people around the world could become poor as a result, including 44 million here in the Middle East.

The figures are alarming. They further highlight the need for the world to protect those in extreme poverty – not only from the Covid-19 disease, but also from its devastating consequences on their livelihoods. Many of the world’s poor rely on daily wages to make ends meet and cannot afford to remain in their homes during lockdowns. Providing them with aid is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus and saving them from deeper levels of destitution.

Countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America have rolled out impressive stimulus packages and expanded the size of their social safety nets. The UAE has put forth a $34 billion stimulus package to keep the economy afloat and save jobs. Abu Dhabi has also rolled out the 'Together We Are Good' drive, a multi-million-dirham fund that aims to help those in need during this time.

But there remain large pockets of the planet that lack the resources to do the same. And where poverty rages, the coronavirus will rage, too.

Wealthy nations must continue to look after their own populations – including their more impoverished citizens – while also maintaining their long-standing commitments to the well-established practice of contributing international aid. In co-ordination with the World Health Organisation, the UAE has sent nearly 200 tonnes of aid to support 150,000 medical professionals around the world, including in Italy and Iran, which have been hit hard by the outbreak. The UK, meanwhile, has pledged more than $260 million to support the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which is racing to find a coronavirus vaccine.

One part of the world cannot heal if another is left behind

Even with these important pledges, foreign aid falls short of the needs of the world’s poorest nations. According to the Sudanese health minister, Sudan alone needs $120 million in additional resources to spare its citizens the most devastating effects of the pandemic. The country is struggling to cope with a pre-existing financial crisis.

Oxfam has called on world leaders to form an economic relief package dedicated to impoverished countries and communities. The value of such a package would be “at least $1 trillion”. It has also called for the cancellation of $1 trillion worth of debt payments for developing countries in 2020.

Global, co-ordinated action is needed to extend social safety nets to the nations that do not have the means to carry out an adequate response to the pandemic. One part of the world cannot heal if another is left behind.