Poverty threat needs to be addressed - GulfToday

Poverty threat needs to be addressed


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

While countries around the world contend with the health emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic, another major fallout — poverty — is being largely ignored and this could lead to dangerous consequences.

The warning by the head of World Bank David Malpass that the coronavirus crisis threatens to push some 60 million people into extreme poverty is a matter of serious concern and needs to be swiftly addressed by the global community, lest all the gains made over the past three years are wiped out.

In a grim prediction, the bank anticipates a five per cent contraction in the world economy this year, with severe effects on the poorest countries.

Families have lost loved ones, millions of jobs and livelihoods are lost and the health systems remain under enormous strain worldwide. With classrooms closed due to the pandemic, there is also growing fear that 370 million children worldwide who depend on school meals will suffer devastating nutritional and health consequences.

School meals are particularly critical for girls, as recently highlighted by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Some parents in poor countries will send their daughter to school based on the promise of her getting a meal there. This in turn allows girls to escape domestic drudgery or even forced early marriage.

For millions of children around the world, the meal they get at school is the only meal they get in a day. Without it, they go hungry, they risk falling sick, dropping out of school and losing their best chance of escaping poverty.

Poor nutrition and resulting weak immunity leaves children especially vulnerable.

Governments need to shore up the futures of such precious young lives.

Africa too is facing a challenging situation.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has cautioned that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress and could push millions into extreme poverty.

While the UN chief said in a video message launching a policy report on “The Impact of COVID-19 in Africa” that countries on the continent have responded swiftly to the crisis, caution should remain the key word.

The virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases. As of now reported cases are lower than feared with more than 2,500 deaths.

But what should be taken note of is that these are early days in the life cycle of a disease that is still not fully understood. The world has seen repeated patterns of first slow, then exponential growth in the number of cases.

The UN has also made it clear that the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organisation warning that the pandemic could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses.

Guterres is right in commending what countries and the African Union have done to tackle the pandemic.

The have efficiently deepened regional coordination, deployed health workers, and enforced quarantines, lockdowns and border closures.

They are also successfully drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumours and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers.

International action is certainly essential to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.

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