Through an international study, European NGOs, including Helvetas, have investigated the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on developing countries. The majority of already disadvantaged families have still not recovered economically. They suffer permanently from lower incomes, poorer nutrition and educational deficits. There is an urgent need for action.
A study carried out in 18 countries reveals how hard disadvantaged people in Africa, Asia and Latin America have been hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey of more than 8,000 people was conducted by the NGO network "Alliance2015," which has seven European organizations, including Helvetas, as affiliate members. In December 2020 the network published an initial study on the immediate consequences of COVID-19.
The new follow-up survey shows that there has been no recovery for people in developing countries since that time. The long-term consequences of COVID-19 have widened pre-existing inequalities and undermined the resilience of those who were already living in poverty. They are now barely able to respond to rising food and energy prices triggered by the war against Ukraine, or to droughts and floods resulting from climate change.
Less income, new coping strategies
Fifty-three percent of respondents earn less income because of COVID-19, and 57% of households report not having enough money for food. As a result, informal support networks have become more important, and those affected have had to develop new strategies to get through life. Fifty-six percent of women and men surveyed report having to cut costs — especially on food, borrow money from acquaintances (43%), or accept help from the state or NGOs (34%). Of those who had incurred debts, only just under a quarter were able to repay the full amount.
Poor access to education and health care
The pandemic hit school-age children particularly hard. Schools were closed in many places — in some cases for up to six months. Fewer than half of the children in the families surveyed attended school during the pandemic. Most received homeschooling from parents or siblings. Now many families cannot afford to send their children to school.
It is not only children's education that has suffered greatly. Because many schools provide sanitation and serve meals, the closures have also had a negative impact on children's nutrition and health.
A similarly problematic situation can be observed in the health sector. While almost half of the respondents feel that health care has improved since the beginning of the pandemic, many are unable to access health care services due to financial constraints. Long waiting times, fear of contracting COVID-19, and long distances to health care facilities are additional reasons why many people do not go to the doctor.
The international community is needed
The Alliance2015 NGOs are appealing to governments to increase their support for poorer countries. In Switzerland, Helvetas has launched an appeal for global justice and, in view of the multiple crises, is proposing a package of measures to combat poverty. The greatest acute need is for food aid, which urgently needs to be expanded.