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Developing countries facing coronavirus ‘catastrophe’ – report

A Christian Aid worker hands a bag of essential items to a Rohingya refugee in the Cox’s Bazar camp, Bangladesh.(Photo: Christian Aid)

A new report by Christian Aid has warned of a global “catastrophe” as the economic, social and political impact of Covid-19 around the world continues to unfold. 

The ‘Building Back with Justice’ report calls for a yearlong moratorium on debt repayments for poor countries after the pandemic exposed “deep inequalities”. 

While rich countries like Germany and Italy have spent over 30% of GDP on economic stabilisation, Malawi, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo have spent only 1%. 

The report details struggles in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan where wheat prices have risen by 20% during the pandemic, sparking food shortages, and India, where 80 million migrant workers are at risk of hunger and homelessness after losing their jobs in the cities. 

Elsewhere in the report, Christian Aid warns that for many countries, the overall disruption to healthcare may “cause more deaths than the virus itself”. 

At the same time, poor sanitisation is making it difficult for people in many poorer countries to protect themselves against Covid-19, with some 40% of the global population – around 3 billion people – living without access to basic hand-washing facilities.

In the long term, Christian Aid is fearful of the impact on education, with around 90% of students worldwide having lost at least part of their schooling during the pandemic. Some girls, it said, many never return to the classroom.

“Experience from the west African Ebola epidemic shows school closures led to higher rates of permanent dropout for girls, and to a rise in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse, teenage pregnancies and early marriage,” the report reads.

The aid agency said that a 12-month cancellation of debt and interest “could be one of the fastest ways to free up resources for some of the countries worst affected by the pandemic and its economic impacts”.

“Without immediate and decisive action, a crisis in the poorest countries threatens to escalate into a catastrophe that will cause untold human suffering, entrench inequalities and slow any recovery,” Christian Aid said.

Patrick Watt, the organisation’s director of policy, public affairs and campaigns, said: “Richer countries have injected massive sums of money to support their economies while poorer countries are crippled by vast debts which are still not being cancelled.

“This is grossly unjust, as well as being exceptionally short-sighted.

“Unless the richest countries step up, and support a comprehensive response and recovery plan that includes debt cancellation, we will see the current crisis tip over into a catastrophic repeat of the lost decade Africa and Latin America experienced in the 1980s.”

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