Poverty, human rights, gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are areas where progress has been made over several decades, but where we have seen a decline during the pandemic. This is why it is more important than ever to strengthen the cooperation in order to limit the effects of the crisis caused by the pandemic.
The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have negatively affected people and societies, and poverty levels have risen. Closures, bankruptcies and reduced tourism and trade have led to millions of people losing their jobs. This is having a particularly severe impact on developing countries, where an average income provides for five to seven people.
Almost 40 million people have been forced back into extreme poverty and now live on less than USD 1.9 a day. Although the greatest increase in extreme poverty is taking place in South Asia, particularly in India, Africa is expected to be hit hardest by the long-term increase in poverty. This is because economic growth is expected to be higher in Asia, which means that the increase in poverty will not be permanent. In Africa, on the other hand, growth is forecast to be slower, with the result that the impact of the pandemic will have longer lasting consequences. The World Bank’s forecasts also show that a new population of poor people has been created. This group, “the new poor”, can be found to a greater extent in middle-income countries, in urban areas and in populations with a higher level of education than is traditionally the case.
Governments in developing countries have limited resources to spend on reducing poverty due to high government debt levels, reduced export revenues and reduced tax revenues due to unemployment and lower wages during the pandemic. In Africa, an average of three percent of GDP is spent on stimulus packages, compared with 22 percent of GDP in G20 countries.
According to the World Bank’s forecast, remittances (money sent to home countries by people living and working abroad) to low- and middle-income countries will grow by 7.3 percent in 2021. Remittances thus exceed financial flows from both foreign direct investment and international aid for the second year in a row. Although foreign direct investment has recovered globally, international investment in developing countries continues to decline.
Access to healthcare is crucial to achieving the goals of Agenda 2030. Despite this, around 400 million people in developing countries have no access to basic health care, while the quality of care that is available is often substandard.
Healthcare infrastructure is often inadequate because a low proportion of the GDP of developing countries is allocated to the health sector, combined with poorly developed social safety nets. As a result, falling ill will have major consequences for the individual concerned.
A positive impact of the pandemic is the stronger focus we are seeing on strengthening the health sector amongst many operators. This concerns a combination of measures and initiatives aimed at rapidly improving access to healthcare, and thereby enhancing the resilience of individuals and society at large.
Another major global health issue is the high proportion of substandard or counterfeit medicines which cause over a million deaths each year. The WHO reports that the issue is particularly widespread in low- and middle-income countries, where one in ten medicines is counterfeit. New technical solutions for the purchase and distribution of certified medicines can help to reduce the spread of counterfeit medicines. In recent years, many consumers have adopted digital healthcare solutions, which make healthcare available to more people and help reduce healthcare costs. New and innovative technology will also be crucial for initiating the production of medicines and vaccines in developing countries.
To ensure that everyone has access to healthcare, a number of parallel initiatives by different actors will be needed. As a result, the governments in these countries must invest more, while traditional aid, civil society and investments are also needed. More initiatives are needed to bridge the gap between supply and demand. These include everything from building more clinics and hospitals, to making care and medicines available through digital platforms.
The organisation IDEA has analysed the development of democracy globally and concluded that democracy is in decline. During the past decade, the countries seeing a negative development in democracy have doubled in number, with last year being described as the worst on record. A new trend that is emerging is that, during the pandemic, many democracies used methods commonly used by authoritarian regimes to restrict civil society and the free media. The pandemic has simply made it easier for some states to justify measures which restrict individuals’ freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate.
Africa is no exception to the global reduction in democratic space. Despite progress since the 1990s, the number of democracies fell from 22 to 18 between 2015 and 2020. A major challenge is that the people in power in some countries have acquired extensive powers to manipulate reform processes in order to extend their time in power. However, there is considerable potential for future democratic development thanks to the high proportion of young people in the population who are connected to the internet and are more aware of human rights and the active civil society. At a general level, elections were held despite changes to take account of the stricter health and safety requirements that the pandemic entailed.
A gender-equal and equal society is pivotal to sustainable development. Even before the pandemic, women were overrepresented amongst the proportion living in extreme poverty and particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The pandemic widened the gap between people from different socio-economic backgrounds and further aggravated the situation facing already vulnerable groups. Women were affected to a greater extent by loss of income and an increase in unpaid work. UN Women reports that all forms of violence against women, especially domestic violence, have escalated during the pandemic. In addition to the impact on life and health, violence prevents women from participating in economic activities and thereby empowering themselves.
Developing countries often lack developed digital infrastructure, especially in rural areas. This means that, in some places, virtually no teaching has taken place when the schools have been closed. The World Bank’s forecasts suggest that the lockdown will lead to lower levels of education, knowledge and future income. According to UNESCO, around eleven million girls will not return to school after the pandemic. This will impact on both individuals and society at large.