The pandemic has pushed nearly 100 million people into poverty. They find it hard to escape

A homeless man sleeps on a bench in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 15. (Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press)

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NEW YORK – Dipali Roy couldn’t afford to eat.

She and her husband, Pradip Roy, were working in the garment industry in Bangladesh when the Covid-19 pandemic struck last spring, leading to massive layoffs in their factory.

Like millions of people across the world, both lost their jobs in the capital, Dhaka, where they had worked for years making pants, shirts and jackets. And like countless other migrants, they were forced to move to the countryside to reduce their expenses.

The World Bank estimates that 97 million people around the world fell into poverty due to the pandemic in 2020, living on less than $ 2 a day.

There has been little improvement since. “Globally, the increase in poverty that occurred in 2020 due to COVID persists, and the COVID-induced poor in 2021 continue to number 97 million people,” World Bank economists said in a report. communicated. Blog post earlier this year. They noted, however, that overall poverty is expected to decline this year.

“We barely had enough to get home,” Dipali Roy said in an interview in Bengali from the family home, a corrugated iron shack in a village in northern Bangladesh.

As the couple searched for new ways to make a living, they struggled to adjust. They tried to find a loan to start a small business, but at first no one was able or willing to help them. Some local non-profit organizations asked for guarantees, which they did not have.

In the hope of getting a job in agriculture, Pradip Roy approaches a few farmers. But he was fired as a “man from Dhaka,” who would not be able to cope with the harsh weather conditions, his wife said.

Above all, “food was the biggest problem,” said Dipali Roy, 20, who was pregnant at the time and could sometimes only have one meal a day thanks to a public rationing program. “I didn’t know what to do… We just had to sit down and wait when they brought food.”

2020 marks a historic setback in the fight against global poverty, as the number of the world’s poorest increases for the first time in over 20 years, according to the World Bank.

Carolina Sánchez-Páramo, global director of poverty and equity at the World Bank, compared the pandemic to a natural disaster that would rapidly spread beyond its epicenter in East Asia.

“We knew the tsunami was coming,” she told CNN Business.

“The question was not whether this [economic shock] would reach other developing regions, but when. “

Growing inequalities

Even as tens of millions of people were pushed into poverty, the ultra-rich got richer. Last year billionaires took advantage of the highest boost to their share of recorded wealth, according to the World Inequality Lab.

And while it took just nine months for the world’s richest 1,000 people to recover their fortunes during the pandemic, it could be more than a decade before the less fortunate recover, according to Oxfam International’s annual inequality report released in January.

Shameran Abed, executive director of BRAC International, a non-profit organization fighting poverty in Asia and Africa, highlighted the widening wealth gap, saying “the three richest people in the world” could possibly eliminate extreme poverty on Earth.

“It is not their only responsibility,” he added. “But I’m just saying that in general there are enough resources [to tackle the problem]. “

Recently, the richest 1% have come under pressure to get involved in humanitarian issues.

In November, the director of the United Nations World Food Program called billionaires, including the world’s two richest men, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, to “step up now, on time.”

In an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, David Beasley said giving $ 6 billion, or roughly 2% of Musk’s net worth, could help solve world hunger.

“[It’s] $ 6 billion to help 42 million people who will literally die if we don’t reach them. It’s not complicated, ”he added.

The call received a direct response from Musk, who later said on Twitter that if the organization could explain “exactly how” the funding would solve the problem, it “would sell Tesla shares right now and do it.”

Tesla CEO did not respond publicly when UN released a map in November.

What is needed now

Abed, who recently worked with UK MPs to state an emergency “ on the issue, argues that “poverty is a political choice.”

“We have the know-how to lift a lot of people out of poverty,” said the nonprofit executive, whose team helped the Roys with a loan that the couple said got them back on their feet. .

“There is a lot of evidence of what works, what doesn’t. “

Experts say the first task is to focus on vaccinations.

“We have to make sure that everyone has access to vaccines or some kind of treatment for the pandemic, because until you can control the health shock, it is very difficult to think about economic recovery, not is this not?” says Sánchez-Páramo. “It’s almost like a necessary condition for anything else to happen.”

Vaccine inequality has become a major problem as many of the richest countries in the world loot vaccines, buying enough doses to immunize their populations multiple times and breaking their promises to share them with the developing world.

And as governments continue to rebuild, they should also focus on reactivating economic activity that would generate jobs, such as in the service sector, according to Sánchez-Páramo.

Over the past two years, governments around the world have rolled out stimulus packages to help support their respective economies.

Sánchez-Páramo noted that while many have since suffered a “tax burden” on the amount they have spent, it was important not to cancel safety net programs too quickly.

“They [should] wait for employment to resume before withdrawing income assistance from some of these most vulnerable households, ”she said.

“Because if we consolidate and roll back support too quickly, we might actually see a second wave of rising poverty because the jobs are not there yet.”

Glimmers of hope

Back in Bangladesh, the Roys are seeing better days.

After securing a loan of 40,000 taka ($ 466), the couple bought a van and a goat to support themselves, they said.

Pradip Roy now works as a driver with his van, carrying passengers for the equivalent of around $ 6 per day. He said the family had no plans to return to town and were now saving to buy a cow and farmland.

While the two are technically lifted out of poverty, the hardships of the coronavirus crisis have left their mark.

Dipali Roy, who described the hunger pangs while pregnant as the “most painful” time of her life, said “if I think back to those times, or remember those times, my heart bursts with tears “.

“But now we’re having a really good days,” she added, saying she had regained hope for the future and dreamed that their six-month-old son would get a master’s degree.

Yet they have a reminder for the international community: don’t forget those who remain.

“There are a lot of people like us who have fallen to the bottom of the abyss,” Pradip Roy said. “So if you stand next to them, they too can get up like us, slowly.”

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