April 09, 2020 17:26:10
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy could see as many as 580 million people — 8 per cent of the world’s population — pushed into poverty, according to researchers.
Researchers say even on a conservative estimate, the pandemic could drive 100 million people into extreme povertyConsecutive Australian Governments have cut the foreign aid budget, particularly to AsiaOxfam is calling for cancellation of developing nations’ foreign debt to wealthier states
Aid groups, meanwhile, are calling on rich countries to cancel foreign debt held by developing nations in light of projections that decades of poverty alleviation efforts could be lost.
A paper by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and King’s College London projects that if consumption contracts in developing countries by 20 per cent, it could see an increase in poverty for 400 to 600 million people globally.
“We were surprised at the sheer scale of the potential poverty tsunami that could follow COVID-19 in developing countries,” said Professor Andy Sumner, one of the lead authors from King’s College London.
“Our findings point towards the importance of a dramatic expansion of social safety nets in developing countries as soon as possible and — more broadly — much greater attention to the impact of COVID in developing countries and what the international community can do to help.”
Australia’s region to be hit hard
“Even under our most conservative scenario, too conservative to be realistic … we’re still talking about 100 million extra people [falling] into extreme poverty,” said ANU’s Christopher Hoy, another of the authors.
In the Middle East and North Africa, he said, it was “very possible” that poverty rates could return to what they were in 1990.
The research was released as scientists said they were concerned a new wave of coronavirus would spread across Asia.
Humanitarian workers have warned that the pandemic could prove devastating in much of Asia and the Pacific, due to widespread poverty, crowded living conditions and weak healthcare systems.
CARE Australia fears a “nightmare scenario” if the disease takes hold in Papua New Guinea and Australia’s other Pacific neighbours.
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In Indonesia — the world’s fourth most populous nation — projections have shown up to 240,000 people could die if no control measures were taken.
Mr Hoy warned “the economic crisis was potentially going to be even more severe than the health crisis”.
“In Indonesia, for example, extreme poverty is quite low but a lot of people are just above the extreme poverty line,” he told the ABC.
“In our moderate scenario we’d expect to see a 50 per cent increase in the people living in extreme poverty. Under our extreme scenario it would more than double.”
Lyn Morgain, the chief executive of Oxfam Australia, said that while a number of countries in South-East Asia had technically reached middle income status, it obscured the fact that development was uneven and that there continued to be “profound and deep poverty in many of those nation states”.
Successive Australian governments have cut aid to South-East Asia and South Asia, in favour of funding programs in the Pacific.
Ms Morgain said that there was “greater utility” in a broader regional approach focused on Asia as well as the Pacific nations, especially during times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not something we would regard as simply a favour to others. Our region has great strength and capability,” she said.
The ABC asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about Australia’s assistance to the region, but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Last month, the United Nations unveiled a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan and urged members of the G20, including Australia, to contribute to helping developing countries weather the economic storm caused by coronavirus.
“The only way for Australia to have a safe and prosperous future, is if Australia is in a safe and prosperous region,” Mr Hoy said.
Oxfam calls for debt cancellation
The World Bank has predicted a global recession and estimated recently that nearly 24 million fewer people would escape poverty across the Asia Pacific in 2020 than would have in the absence of the pandemic.
It called for “urgent investment” in healthcare systems and fiscal measures such as subsidising sick leave.
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“Countries in East Asia and the Pacific that were already coping with international trade tensions and the repercussions of the spread of COVID-19 in China are now faced with a global shock,” said Victoria Kwakwa, the World Bank’s vice president for East Asia and the Pacific.
“The good news is that the region has strengths it can tap, but countries will have to act fast and at a scale not previously imagined.”
Along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank recently called on creditors to allow poor countries to suspend debt payments during the crisis.
But Ms Morgain said this did not go far enough, and called for debts to be cancelled altogether.
“What is vitally important is that we take the big structural choices like forgiving debt to allow countries to make their own path to recovery,” she told the ABC.
“On the global stage there is also an opportunity for Australia to take a leadership role, with an understanding that like people people, countries can’t get back on their feet if they’re struggling with unethical levels of debt.”
Tonga and Samoa, for example, have high levels of debt distress, Mr Hoy said.
“One thing that Australia could do is step up and assist with that debt cancellation,” he said.
The World Bank and IMF will meet in Washington next week to discuss global economic priorities.
Researchers hope that the stark poverty projections inform decisions during these forums.
“The work we have ahead of us is completely unimaginable,” Ms Morgain said.
“We can step in now and make decisions at the global level … to make things for everyone so much better on the other side of this pandemic.”
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