UNDP report Covid-19 to worsen existing inequalities between nations

Nasim Ahmed

According to a study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Covid-19 pandemic could undo the gains made in human development in the past several decades. The scourge will exacerbate the existing inequality, with the burden falling on the poorest sections of society.

In the words of the report, “The world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09. Each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year. COVID-19 – with its triple hit to health, education, and income – may change this trend.”

UNDP says that globalization has brought new opportunities and efficiency gains, but, as witnessed with COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions at one point of the chain can trigger serious local problems elsewhere. The effects of such events may be detrimental for countries and people that heavily depend on tourism such as island countries, inflows of remittances, or receiving official development assistance.

As we know, the coronavirus crisis has hit both developed and developing countries, putting income sources and health services under severe strain. One immediate result of the scourge is widening inequality between the developed and developing countries. In this connection, the UK-based Centre for Economic Policy Research has used inequality models to find that the pandemic could end up exerting a significant adverse “impact on inequality.” The research paper has concluded that in the absence of coordinated efforts to protect the most vulnerable segments of society, the pandemic could widen the gap between rich and poor nations.

The International Labour Organisation has predicted that half of all working people could lose their jobs over the coming months, while the UNDP has stressed the world is “only at the beginning of the virus’s economic and social impact.

In order to alleviate the sufferings of people due to prolonged lockdowns, government everywhere have offered rescue packages which have mostly been given to large companies some of which do not deserve such largesse. Therefore, there is growing public demand arguing that government bailout money should be spent on people instead. Economic studies have shown there may be more efficient ways to spend bailout money, one being the expansion of social safety net programmes that provide food assistance and health care.

The UNDP’s new data reveal huge disparities among countries in ability to cope with Covid-19 and recover. According to this report, shocks like COVID-19 pandemic, show the ability to respond is significantly lower and unequally distributed.

The UNDP report says that Pakistan is among those countries that are least prepared to tackle the coronavirus challenge. Keeping in view the level of human development, healthcare system capacity and internet access, Pakistan is one of those countries that are vulnerable to Covid-19 due to lack of preparedness. For every 10,000 people, Pakistan has only 9.8 physicians, five nurses and only six hospital beds. The country spends only 2.8 percent of its GDP on health. This shows how vulnerable Pakistan is to this pandemic.

By contrast, the developed countries with very high human development rankings have on average 55 hospital beds, over 30 physicians, and 81 nurses per 10,000 people. The least developed nations on average have seven hospital beds, 2.5 physicians, and six nurses.

According to this data, India has 7.8 physicians for every 10,000 people whereas, it has 21 nurses and 7 hospital beds for every 10,000 persons. India spends 3.7 percent of its total GDP on health. On the contrary, a developed country like the United States has 125.9 physicians, 86 nurses and 29 hospital beds for every 10,000 people. The US spends 17.1 percent of its total GDP on health. According to this report, the South Asian region has 7.8 physicians per 10,000 people. The region has 17 nurses and eight hospital beds for every 10,000 people.

Although everyone is potentially affected in one way or another by this pandemic, some individuals and groups are more vulnerable, and suffer far more harm and have a much longer road to recovery. Poverty adds to the high risks of long-lasting consequences. Despite recent progress in poverty reduction, about 1 in 4 people still live in multidimensional poverty or are vulnerable to it, and more than 40 percent of the global population does not have any social protection.

In the aftermath of Covid 19, the digital divide has become more significant than ever. Almost 6.5 billion people around the globe — 85.5 percent of the global population still don’t have access to reliable broadband internet, which limits people’s ability to work and continue their education.

The report, commenting on the state of education, says that it is in a deplorable state and the rate of teaching efficiency for children of primary school age learning outside of schools, is at levels that were last seen in the mid-1980s.

Needless to say, the challenge posed by the coronavirus is a tremendous one and calls for a coordinated response from the world’s people as a whole.

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