COVID Must Not Destroy Progress in Reducing Extreme Poverty

Published on 18 March 2021 at 13:17

Over the past thirty years, extreme poverty has been reduced by more than half. The drastic trends of reduction in extreme poverty began during the 1970s . In 1990, nearly 36% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, in 2017, that number fell to 9%. Countries which were regarded as very poor twenty to thirty years ago, are now the leaders of growth in their regions.


Of course, some of these countries like Ethiopia for example, are still struggling; with parts of the country lacking access to clean drinking water, child malnutrition and food shortages. According to the World Bank, COVID19 will push nearly 150 million people into extreme poverty by the end of 2021. This most certainly will disrupt the progress  made worldwide in terms of reducing income inequalities and extreme poverty. It is important to note that extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.90 or less a day. 


Today, a third of the world’s population lives on $10 a day. Ten years ago only a quarter did so. The share of the world’s workers living in extreme poverty reduced by half in the past ten years. In 2010, 14.3% of the world's workers lived in extreme poverty and, in 2019, that fell to 7% according to the United Nations.


The first goal of the UN out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is ‘No Poverty’. The most ambitious target of this goal is to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 and to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all. The latest UN data, however, shows that we are not on track to achieve these targets by 2030. COVID seems to be the main reason for this set back according to the World Bank and the United Nations. 


What can be done? Firstly, post COVID recovery has to be global and without borders. Countries must develop approaches that will not only benefit themselves but also their neighbours and the global economy overall. These include investments in green energy, new trade deals, digitalization, tackling climate change and aid, and should be the priority in the months and years ahead. Countries, especially the richer ones should also commit to helping the poorer ones recover as soon as possible by supporting them economically.


Secondly, vaccine nationalism is a growing concern, and has been condemned by the Word Health Organisation. Richer countries, Like the USA, UAE and other European countries, have secured the majority of COVID19 vaccines. Granted supplies of the vaccine are not great, due to a number of variables, however one variable seems to stand out from the rest.


Many companies are unable to produce vast amounts of the vaccine. Despite this, a global vaccination effort should be a priority, in order to achieve global immunity as soon as possible. 

If the European Union wishes to assert more global influence, as they roll out their vaccine programme, now is the time for the customs union to do so. Engagement by the EU in the COVAX program which was launched by the WHO is a step in the right direction. However, more must be done.


With the EU ordering nearly over 2bln vaccines the trading bloc can be a key player in helping poorer nations to defeat the virus and help them recover. It was Robert Shuman who put it best: “With increased resources Europe will be able to pursue the achievement of one of its essential tasks, namely, the development of the African continent.”

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