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COVID’s Aftershocks: Putin’s war drives 71 million people into poverty


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Boiling point: Russia’s war in Ukraine has driven 71 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries in the past three months. Experts are warning that the uptick in poverty levels, combined with a mounting debt crisis in those countries, increase the risk of social unrest. The UN Development Programme says lower-income countries are in desperate need of international assistance as they try to manage the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, critical debt levels, and the food and energy crisis. A recent drop in commodity prices may signal an economic slowdown, but also suggests that investor speculation played a role in driving up food and fuel prices.

Trillion dollar scandal: This week, G20 finance ministers are expected to recommend that the World Bank deliver significant new funding to help economically struggling countries. Next week, a highly secretive report will be released, recommending the bank use its AAA credit rating to borrow more on capital markets to fight poverty and climate change. Doing so could raise an additional trillion dollars. ONE published an analysis calling on G20 and multilateral development banks to be more ambitious.

Cascade of defaults: As more countries face the spectre of debt default and Sri Lanka descends into instability following its own default, pressure is mounting on the G20’s Common Framework, which has yet to finalise any support to the three countries that applied. Creditors are meeting with Ethiopia and Chad this week and are expected to offer Zambia financial assurances by the end of July. Non-Chinese private creditors owned 35% of African debt in 2020, with Chinese public and private creditors owning just 12%. After defaulting over a year ago, Zambia is cancelling projects worth over $2 billion and considering a new law limiting public borrowing at 65% of the previous year’s GDP.

Unequal protection: High-income countries invested 93 times more in social protection responses during COVID-19 than low-income countries. A total of $3 trillion was spent globally on social protection, equal to 2% of GDP per country, on average. But that belies massive discrepancies between rich and poor countries: high-income countries spent an average of $715 per capita whilst low-income countries spent just $7.7 per capita. Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa’s $27.5 per capita spend ranked lowest. North America had the highest regional spend, at $4,130, an amount greater than the annual per capita incomes of 45 African countries.

Waste-not, want-not: Over 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been thrown away. That’s equivalent to nearly 10% of all COVID-19 doses produced, according to Airfinity. Rich countries sending nearly expired vaccine doses to low-income countries is one of the main drivers of that waste. A lack of appropriate storage facilities is also a contributing factor. With waning demand for COVID-19 vaccines, companies are reducing their production. Meanwhile, the WTO is facing calls to extend a recently agreed vaccine TRIPS waiver to vital COVID-19 tools, including tests and therapeutics, that…ahem… ought to have been included in the original waiver. Don’t hold your breath: it took the WTO a year and a half to approve the vaccine waiver. ⌛

Growth opportunity: More than one in two children born between now and 2050  will be in sub-Saharan Africa. The DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania are amongst the eight countries that will account for more than half of global population growth over that period. This will put pressure on countries to improve access to services such as healthcare and education to maximise this “demographic dividend” and spur economic growth. Overall, the global population grew less than 1% during COVID-19, the lowest rate since World War II. Experts attribute this to a combination of decreasing fertility trends paired with increased deaths and reduced migration during the pandemic.

At long last: African countries will be able to buy Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid at cost, according to a newly signed memorandum of understanding between the company and the Africa CDC. Paxlovid has been shown to be 90% effective at preventing hospitalisation and death in people at high risk. Less than 20% of Africans are fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 75% in high-income countries.

Another virus: Ghanaian health officials are rapidly marshalling plans after two cases of the Marburg virus emerged last week. The highly infective virus is a relative of Ebola, and early stage symptoms appear similar to COVID-19. This could impact the diagnosis and complicate treatment. Marburg is exceptionally deadly, and comes at a time when COVID-19 and economic crises have battered Ghana’s relatively strong healthcare system. There have been just 12 major Marburg breakouts in the past 50 years.

First responders: A new Centre for Excellence will train 3,000 elite health emergency responders to be deployed across Africa as part of a WHO Health Emergency Hub launched in joint partnership with the Kenyan government. The project aims to establish teams in every African country to respond to national health crises within the first 24 hours. Africa experiences more than 100 health emergencies every year, the most in the world. But less than 10% of African countries have the necessary workforce to respond to public health risks.

Transparency troubles: Aid transparency has failed to improve for the first time in the history of the Aid Transparency Index, despite more agencies than ever providing good data. The pandemic’s impact on government agencies’ capacity may be a key reason. The African Development Bank ranked highest on the index, with the World Bank, Gavi, UNICEF, and the US Millennium Challenge Corporation also receiving high grades. The British Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office received one of the lowest scores. Government aid agencies from China, the UAE, and Turkey provided no information. The Aid Transparency Index is at risk of closure following the withdrawal of its top donor.

From the ONE team

  • ONE’s statement calling on G20 finance ministers to remove blockages that are preventing the world’s poorest countries from accessing essential financial support.
  • ONE’s Executive Director of Global Policy David McNair talks to Development Compass about how ONE’s data dives help explain an increasingly complicated world.
  • ONE’s Senior Policy Director Sara Harcourt calls on Australia to commit to sharing SDRs at this weekend’s G20 finance minister’s meeting.

The numbers

More reads

  • The radical plan for vaccine equity. (Nature)
  • Heavily indebted countries need a system that helps avoid a financial meltdown. (Financial Times)
  • From food, to the economy, to commodities, culminating crises have created “perfect storms” around the world. (Bloomberg)
  • The Maasai people in Tanzania may lose their land – again. (Al Jazeera)
  • Mali’s famed manuscripts – smuggled out of Timbuktu – are now online. (The New York Times)

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