Covid effects will hurt world's poorest for a decade, report finds

Closure of schools and loss of job opportunities made it harder to escape poverty, say researchers

People wait to receive food from police during a Covid lockdown in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Getty
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The effects of Covid-19 could affect the world's poorest for more than 10 years due to the global response which hit jobs, health care and education, a report has found.

Lockdowns in poorer nations let to an increase in domestic violence and deprived children of education and school meals, while food insecurity increased, the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (CPAN) said.

Researchers highlighted how lockdowns caused some schools in India and Uganda to close for nearly two years, making it more difficult for under-privileged children to escape from poverty.

These closures occurred long after the economies had opened up, researchers added.

In addition, many of the poorest lost access to the casual work opportunities they previously relied on, while others suffered due to food price inflation.

Researchers say those affected are likely to take the next decade or longer to escape from chronic poverty and more people could face poverty in future crises unless appropriate measures are put in place.

"While acknowledging that authorities had to act quickly to save lives at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the research shows that subsequent lockdowns significantly impacted people living in poverty," the report said.

"In relatively poor countries, with young populations who might be less severely affected by the virus, as became noticeable relatively early in the pandemic, it made sense that decision-makers should focus on livelihoods as much as lives.

"This report focuses on the trade-off between imposing restrictions as the leading response to a pandemic and to making social and economic progress."

Those living in poverty must be at the heart of policy decisions by governments and the international community for pandemic preparedness and response, researchers say.

The report said future pandemic responses needed to be better balanced to allow people to earn a living, while also attempting to stop infections.

Policy responses should include long-term investment in hospital and community-based health services and stronger social protection measures.

A school pupil wearing a face mask attends school as a surge of Covid-19 cases hit Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2022. EPA

Vidya Diwakar, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and deputy director of the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network, said those in poverty or near poverty particularly suffered during restrictive measures imposed in response to Covid-19, which often meant they were unable to feed or educate their children.

"We must prioritise the poorest people and those living near the poverty line when deciding whether to impose lockdowns, market closures or school closures, and how long for," he said.

"This prioritisation can help reduce the chances of causing greater poverty and long-term damage to people’s lives.”

Andrew Shepherd, associate researcher at the Institute of Development Studies and director of the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network, said there was an "information gap" leading to policies being introduced without considering the potentially damaging effects on millions of people.

"In future pandemics elite decision-makers must include the experiences and welfare of citizens living in poverty,” he said.

CPAN is based at the Institute for Development Studies. Its findings were compiled though interviews from people in 15 low-income countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nicaragua, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Updated: July 11, 2023, 1:33 PM