Pandemic Poverty

Inequality and Poverty Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the early days of spring COVID-19 lockdowns, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations’ human rights chief, issued a statement expressing distress and deep concern over the plight of migrant workers facing poverty, especially in South Asia—home to one-sixth of the world’s population.

She said they were, in effect, forced to leave the cites where they worked with just a few hours’ notice. Lacking jobs and money and facing a shutdown of public transportation, thousands had to travel hundreds of miles to their home villages. Some died on the journey.

“The lockdown in South Asia represents a massive logistical and implementation challenge given the population size and its density and we all hope the spread of the virus can be checked,” Bachelet said. “Many of these people’s lives have been suddenly uprooted by the lockdown, placing them in very precarious situations.”[1]  

The director of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University thinks the world needs to have a conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on inequality and poverty. Otherwise, said Dr. Natalia Linos, it will be difficult to achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. After global poverty fell from 36 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2015, the UN had hoped to eliminate it by 2030. That is now in serious doubt.

The Harvard educator says there are five major reasons the COVID-19 pandemic affects the fight to end extreme poverty:

1. Lower-income people are more at risk of disease.

They have less accessibility to preventive health care and education and are more likely to have pre-existing conditions, hold insecure jobs and thus can’t afford to miss work, and can’t easily isolate themselves from coworkers, family members, or neighbors.

“If you’re telling people who live in slums that they need to wash their hands, but you don’t have running water—they don’t have soap—then you’re really not doing something,” Linos said. “The response isn’t poverty sensitive. It’s not understanding what the limitations are.”[2]

2. Vulnerable communities have unequal access to health care.

Around half the world’s population lacks access to health care. Plus, health care expenses often push people into extreme poverty. This is serious in countries such as Somalia, with its lack of a strong central government; and Yemen, plagued by instability.

3. People living in marginalized communities often lack protection.

As mentioned earlier, preventive steps like handwashing and sanitation are especially difficult for migrants, as well as refugees and other internally displaced communities.

4. Access to reproductive health is limited during a crisis.

Without family planning and contraception access, women have difficulty making decisions about their future, tend to give birth at younger ages, and fail to complete their education, thus earning less income later.

5. Job instability due to COVID-19 perpetuates poverty.

The poorest people working in insecure jobs often face unsafe conditions and lack access to health care. Those who have health care, but miss work because of quarantines or other measures, are also likely to lose employment benefits.[3]

While COVID-19 is no longer causing the same magnitude of lockdowns, hospitalizations, and deaths as it did earlier in the pandemic, its economic consequences continue to inflict widespread suffering. GFA World remains dedicated to supporting struggling local economies and impoverished families in the areas we serve, providing aid in various ways.

Your partnership can help create a tremendous difference. Through your generous gift, life-saving sustenance, supplies and other vital humanitarian aid will reach men, women and children facing desperate circumstances, all in the name and love of Christ.

Learn more about pandemic poverty

[1] “South Asia: Migrant workers’ plight prompts UN call for ‘domestic solidarity in coronavirus battle.” United Nations. April 2, 2020.
[2] Rodriguez, Leah. “5 Reasons COVID-19 Will Impact the Fight to End Extreme Poverty.” Global Citizen. April 7, 2020.
[3] Ibid.