Both lives and livelihoods are at risk because of Covid-19. Rising unemployment has been a major concern since the start of the pandemic. The lockdown imposed to curb the virus has led to one of the worst unemployment scenarios around the globe, with millions of employees working at increased work-hours with salaries slashed to half. These numbers are a reminder of The Great Depression of the 1930s causing mass unemployment, increased debts, and homelessness of the poor. The ongoing hunger crisis and the potentially fatal virus only make it worse.
A surge in unemployment due to the Pandemic
Around the world, people are losing access to their jobs, and means of paying for food. In fact hunger in the world has been a horrifying picture for the last four years. The pandemic is evolving from a health care crisis into a financial one- shattering businesses, upending industries, and placing the livelihoods of hundreds of millions at risk all over the world and the situation closer home is no different. The country-wise lockdown to control the spread of the virus resulted in 122 million Indians losing their jobs in April alone. According to data by the Biruni Institute, in Afghanistan alone, six million people have already lost their jobs and 80 per cent of people live below the poverty line. The recent Global Report on Food Crisis reported that 135 million people in 55 countries suffered acute hunger in 2019 and the ongoing pandemic is only adding to the rising numbers.
The outbreak of the virus has made the urban middle class vulnerable to poverty and food security especially for those who work in the informal sectors and the daily wage earners. In Zimbabwe, the unofficial unemployment rate is more than 80% due to fewer jobs and disrupted supply chains forcing people to live hand to mouth. In May, the International Labor Organization warned that COVID-19’s economic fallout could “leave many young people behind” permanently excluding them from the job markets. In India, about 41% of people aged between 15-19 were out of work in May and an estimated 27 million people between the ages of 20-30 lost their jobs in April, as per the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE). In March, the unemployment rate in Italy dropped to 8.4 %, its lowest in almost nine years. “Nobody must lose their job because of the coronavirus,” Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said.
Although this is a very difficult situation for tens of millions of people who have been put out of work but what makes it very different from the Great Depression is that it isn’t a consequence of the underlying economic problems, but a fallout a health crisis.
Hunger crisis during the pandemic.
“I would rather die from the disease than hunger, we get a roti or two or a sometime little bit of rice in a day, how is it possible to subside merely on that” cried a homeless man. Most of the estimated 4 million-plus homeless people in India have had no way of earning a living since the lockdown began on March 25. “The food security effects of the COVID crisis are going to reflect many years from now,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, the World Health Organization head of nutrition and development. “There is going to be a societal effect,” he added. In countries like Zimbabwe, the families in the rural areas are struggling because the rains have been erratic and many haven’t managed to grow much food, now the global health crisis is making the families more vulnerable. Even though people are being encouraged to practice social distancing but masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers are in short supply all over the country. “The problem is not the problem of food availability, the problem today is of food access. We have food available and we have a very good harvest of cereals this year.” Said Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. According to Torero’s analysis, in an optimistic economic scenario, an extra 14.4 million people will be undernourished in countries that are net importers of food, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Child deaths due to malnutrition are also escalating. In a normal year, an average of 19 children dies from malnutrition in Tuy, Philippines. But in the first five and a half months of this year alone, the number of children dying from malnutrition is already up to 20. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a third of Afghanistan’s people are facing a shortage of food after the government imposed lockdown since March. As a result, food prices soared making it harder for families to feed themselves. With widespread malnutrition in the country, COVID 19 deepens the crisis. UNICEF has warned that around 128,000 young children will likely face death as a result of malnutrition. In a report by LANCET, researchers have stated that this virus-linked hunger is a form of malnutrition and may increase by 14.3% in low and middle-income countries. This kind of increment directly implies an additional 10,000 child deaths per month with 80% of affected children from Sub-Saharan Africa and the South Asian region. In countries with already high levels of food insecurity, this pandemic will cause dire consequences. Afghanistan is now classified as a hunger Red-Zone with UNICEF warning that severe childhood malnutrition has increased by 13%, to combat the crisis, four aid agencies are now calling for 2.4 billion dollars to tackle the crisis.
The World shows outrage which highlights several questions, like; will the after-effects of this pandemic be more deadly than the virus itself? How will governments restructure their economies to cope with the economic fallout? And most importantly, Will the government willingly pay the unemployed workers after the pandemic?