Half a billion people could end up in poverty due to the economic effects of the coronavirus. This is shown by Oxfam's report Dignity Not Destitution which was released two weeks ago.
For many of us, time stands still right now and life has been paused. For others, not least healthcare professionals, the pace has picked up. In some places, time can now even go backwards. On the other side of the pandemic we are currently experiencing, decades of progress may be lost. The fight against poverty can be postponed by 10 years, and as much as 30 years in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
How will the world change after months of quiet streets, empty shops and barricaded bars? Now that the economies of entire countries are shutting down to prevent the spread of corona? Again, it is those without safety nets, savings and those already living in vulnerability, who will be worst affected. Oxfam's report shows that more than half of the world's population may live in poverty after the pandemic.
The ugly face of inequality has bubbled to the surface, everything is turned upside down and the fragility of our social structures is exposed. Women, who earn the least and globally own 50 percent less than men go to the forefront to care for the sick and prevent the spread of infection. Not only do women make up 70 percent of the world's healthcare staff, they also do the majority of all unpaid household and nursing work in the home, such as caring for children and the elderly, cooking and cleaning.
As always in a catastrophic situation, it is people in poverty and vulnerability who take the brunt. Globally, the workers who earn the least at the same time also often have the most precarious forms of employment. Many lack sickness benefits and the opportunity to work from home.
Micah Olywangu is a father of three and works as a taxi driver in Nairobi, Kenya. He is one of the workers hard hit by the curfew and travel restrictions in the country. He describes his and millions of others' situation:
- The virus will make us starve before we get sick, says Micah Olywangu.
Micah is afraid of the coronavirus. Not to get infected, but for the pandemic to make him unemployed. Poor. That his family will starve.
Suddenly the numbers turn into people. Reality creeps under the skin.
It is natural that in all countries people are focusing on their own population right now. Medical places must be secured. Salaries are secured. Companies are saved.
Poverty is not just a number or a shortage of zeros and banknotes. Poverty is a fear and a pain. A disease in our economic systems that we can actually eradicate.
In order for the clock not to turn back to a time of higher poverty figures, international solidarity will be required. Oxfam proposes a comprehensive economic crisis package for poor countries, including debt relief.
The new corona virus can affect anyone. Regardless of income, gender and nationality. Inequality, on the other hand, has clear winners and losers. Last year, Oxfam reported that 10 people die, every day, because they cannot afford medical care. We now have the chance to turn the clock towards an equal future without poverty and sexism.
For millions of people, the current crisis is not about time standing still. It's about whether they have any future at all.