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New Report Finds COVID-19 Pushed 80 Million People into Extreme Poverty

Stories | September 30, 2021

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the social and economic impacts of the global crisis particularly on vulnerable people are only starting to become known.

A new report by the Asian Development Bank finds that the pandemic has pushed about 80 million people in developing Asia – which comprises 35 countries including India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan – into extreme poverty compared to what would have happened without COVID-19.

Extreme poverty is defined in the report as living on less than $1.90 a day. The report finds that in 2017, approximately five per cent of developing Asia’s population (about 203 million people) lived in extreme poverty, and that this number was projected to decrease to an estimated 2.6 per cent of the population by 2020 prior to the onset of the pandemic.

More than a third of the countries that provided comprehensive economic, financial, social, and environmental data for the report found that unemployment increased by 20 per cent or more in 2020, with many struggling families forced to borrow money, sell property, defer payments or eat less just to survive the pandemic.

Additionally, the developing Asia region lost about eight per cent of total work hours due to COVID-19 related lockdowns and restrictions which had a disproportionate impact on poorer households.

The Asian Development Bank tracks progress towards targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across areas including education and health. It says that the pandemic has threatened gains made towards some of these goals, for example in the way it has exacerbated inequalities in education due to the global shift towards online learning resulting from school shutdowns.

The particular vulnerability women have experienced during the pandemic – including increased rates of violence against women and girls, more job and income losses and greater unpaid care work – has also been explored in a recent report by UN Women.

The United Nations’ organisation dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment tracks the need for and effectiveness of gender-responsive work in countries including India, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea to protect the health, safety and economic outcomes for women throughout the pandemic.

This work ranged from the provision of hygeine supplies and essential food items, as well as reusable masks to ensure women could receive support in COVID-safe ways, to ensuring domestic violence services could meet demand and vulnerable women could engage in vocational training to earn a temporary income where their regular work had been impacted.

The report notes that while the recovery from COVID-19 will be long and challenging, it provides an opportunity for marginalized groups including women to be better protected and supported. Part of this could focus on restructuring economies so that women are not relegated to the most vulnerable jobs, or expected to perform the bulk of unpaid care work at home.

The need for women to be involved at all levels of decision-making about the economic recovery from COVID-19, both in the public and private sectors, is also highlighted as crucial in creating a more equitable post-pandemic world.

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