Extreme poverty levels rise for the first time in 25 years

World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives
World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives

For the first time in a generation, the fight to end poverty has suffered its worst setback. What is to blame? The coronavirus pandemic.

For almost 25 years, extreme poverty was steadily declining. Now, for the first time in a generation, it is on the rise. In October 2020, The World Bank estimated that between 88 and 115 million people around the world would be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this year, they adjusted this forecast to predict a rise in the number of people affected by Covid-19-induced poverty to between 119 and 124 million.

Estimates for 2021

The report also added that, while there is progress in the development of vaccines, it does not look likely that last year’s increase in poverty will be reversed in 2021. In fact, in 2021, they estimated the number of people affected by Covid-19-induced poverty will be between 143 and 163 million.

“While the estimates for 2021 are very preliminary, it goes to show that for millions of people around the globe this crisis will not be short-lived.”

How this has – and will continue to – affect the people we work with

Concern works in 23 of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, and over the past year we have witnessed the colossal impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on people living in extreme poverty. In order to fully determine how the pandemic has affected the extreme poor, Concern conducted research in Malawi, Somalia, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh. We interviewed programme participants who volunteered four times throughout the year to understand what effect the pandemic is having on people's health, livelihoods and coping strategies, allowing a picture to emerge of how their situation is changing over time.

What we discovered

Khadiza with her daughter Sumaiya. Photo: Mohammad Rakibul Hasan
Khadiza with her daughter Sumaiya. Photo: Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Although initially seen as a public health emergency, the secondary impacts of Covid-19 have been devastating for many of the poorest people in the world, compounding existing underlying challenges. Impacts include increased food prices and loss of jobs, resulting in lack of income and access to nutritious food; ultimately leading to hunger and malnutrition.

The other day I literally sold nothing the whole day. I believe this situation is attributed to scarcity of money due to Covid-19.

Rice Trader, Nsanje, August 2020

Lack of money for food means families are faced with two choices – to change either the amount or the type of food consumed. One respondent explained how he “used to bring apples and oranges for the children but now … I can’t feed them even half as much as before”.

Other impacts include limited access to healthcare and difficulties for children to attend school.

Falling further behind

While these are challenges seen across many countries affected by Covid-19, the loss of up to six months income and over 200 days of education have been devastating for families living in poverty and will take a long time to recover from. Many people in these contexts live on daily earnings that has no security, for example cleaning or laundry or other low paid labour, or on less than $1.90 a day. Most children do not have space to study or electricity, not to mention a computer or access to the internet to learn online. The expected rise of Covid-19-induced poverty sitting at 119 and 124 million people is a global prediction, but those who were already the poorest will continue to fall further behind.

The ongoing pandemic and lockdowns have also brought to the forefront the burden of unpaid labour such as care-work which women face, regardless of where they live in the world. Women are doing significantly more domestic chores and family care because of the pandemic, meaning they either have less time to engage in paid labour, or will work longer hours. Either way, this has an effect on their financial security.

An increase of 5-10 taka has no effect on those who have money, but those like us who have to run a family with a small amount of money, if they have to pay even a fraction of a taka for no reason, it hurts their heart.

Female Respondent, Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 2020

What next

Sylivamus, a Public Health Officer, fumigating households in Korogocho informal settlements, Nairobi. Photo: Ed Ram
Sylivamus, a Public Health Officer, fumigating households in Korogocho informal settlements, Nairobi. Photo: Ed Ram

It does appear, however, that things are improving. In some parts of the world, schools are slowly reopening and people are less frightened to seek medical treatment when needed. We can see this positive change from respondent’s answers in July and then again in September.

July 2020

Children are living without hope; thinking things will never go back to normal.

Male Respondent, Lilongwe, July 2020

September 2020

School children are now filled with hope and they are happy that soon they will be going back to school.

Male Respondent, Lilongwe, September 2020

While Covid-19 will leave its mark on all of us, the impact of the pandemic on people living in some of the world’s poorest places will leave its mark for a long time to come. The long-term impact on children of increased levels of malnutrition and the lack of accessibility to education for such a long period will have repercussions for many years, while the impact of the pandemic on education, in particular for girls, has the potential to irrevocably damage their longer-term health, wellbeing and livelihood opportunities.

What can we do about it?

In all contexts, 2021 will be a year of renewed hope. The various social, economic, cultural and educational losses will continue to emerge and strategies must be adapted to accommodate and respond to the severity of these. In all countries, plans must be made to ensure those already furthest behind are not further disadvantaged.

Concern continues to respond to this global threat and is well-equipped to support those who are most vulnerable. Find out more about our response here.

The coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis that requires a global response. Concern has always been committed to a principal of leaving no-one behind – and this has never been more relevant.

If you’d like to help, please donate to our Coronavirus Emergency Appeal

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