With Poverty & Hunger Skyrocketing, is a Global Economic Rescue Package the Answer?
By Thalif Deen*
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2020 (IPS) – The United Nations has
been relentlessly pursuing a highly-ambitious blueprint for the sustainable
future of humanity –harking back to the adoption of a new global economic
agenda by the General Assembly back in 2015.
And then came COVID-19.
The world body is now in danger of losing one of its
longstanding battles for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030,
an integral part of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Abby Maxman, President & CEO of Oxfam America, told IPS
COVID-19 is the final straw for millions of people already struggling with the
impacts of conflict, inequality, and climate change.
She said Oxfam is calling on the international community to
agree to an “Economic Rescue Package for All,” which includes fully funding the
UN’s humanitarian appeal to enable the delivery of life-saving humanitarian
The proposal also calls for an additional $160 billion through
aid and immediate debt cancellation to enable poor countries to take action to
prevent the spread of the disease and build the capacity of health systems to
care for those affected.
She said Oxfam is especially calling on G20 leaders to set a
truly ambitious plan with concrete actions for how they will work together to
save lives, including a massive injection of funds into public health around
According to a Time magazine cover story last week
“countries have already spent $11 trillion to help stem the economic damage
from COVID-19—and they could spend trillions more.”
In April, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the
European Commission said Europe “can turn the crisis of this pandemic into an
opportunity to rebuild our economies differently’ and pledged more than $800
billion to transform the way Europeans live while battling climate change,
including solar panels, wind farms, emissions cuts and greener forms of
Yasmeen Hassan, Global Director at Equality Now, told IPS
COVID-19 has “impacted every single one of us but it has disproportionately
affected those who were already economically vulnerable and socially
What has become abundantly clear, she argued, is that the
pandemic has been especially devastating to women and girls.
“Since the start of the crisis, we have seen spikes in
femicide, domestic violence, sexual abuse in the home, and online sexual
exploitation. There has also been an increase in child marriages amongst
families becoming increasingly desperate and struggling to survive,” Hassan
Meanwhile, the figures coming out of the UN are depressingly
grim: an estimated 71 million people are expected to be pushed back into
extreme poverty in 2020, the first rise in global poverty since 1998, and by the
year 2030, more than 100 million people would have relapsed into poverty.
The latest edition of “the State of Food Security and
Nutrition in the World, released early this week, estimates that almost 690
million people went hungry in 2019: up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly
60 million in five years.
“if the current trend continues, we will not achieve the
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, that is zero hunger, by 2030,” the report
Maxman said economies large and small, all over the world,
are taking a hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But as in all other crises,
it’s the poorest and most marginalized communities and women and girls who will
suffer the worst impacts.
“Yes, poverty will most certainly increase because of
COVID-19” she said.
Back in April, Oxfam estimated that between six and eight
percent of the global population – half a billion people – could be forced into
poverty by the pandemic, setting back the fight against poverty by a decade,
and as much as 30 years in some regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle
East and North Africa.
And it could mean that more than half of the global
population could be living in poverty in the aftermath of this pandemic.
“Worse yet, in a new report last week, we estimated that 121 million
more people could be pushed to the brink of starvation this year as a result of
the social and economic fallout from the pandemic – mass unemployment,
disruption to food production and supplies, and dwindling aid.”
As many as 12,000 people could die every day from
COVID-linked hunger, which is more than those dying daily from the virus
itself,” declared Maxman.
Hassan said “it is important to realize that COVID-19 did
not create the inequalities we are seeing around the world”.
Rather it has cast a harsh spotlight on systems of
oppression and discrimination that have long benefitted the powerful at the
expense of the powerless.
“Thus, when we think about a post-COVID future, we must
examine what about our pre-COVID world helped to contribute to the devastation
we have seen over the past several months.”
While the work of women’s rights organizations has increased
exponentially, funding to these organizations is drying up as the world goes
into recession and existing budgets are diverted towards direct COVID-19
response measures, she pointed out.
“Any economic or political response to the virus must have a
gendered lens. Since women and girls have shouldered some of the heaviest
burdens of the fallout from pandemic their voices must not only be heard at the
table but they should be leading the conversation,” said Hassan.
Asked to elaborate on Oxfam’s proposal for an Economic
Rescue Package For All, Maxman told IPS that all countries are trying to
respond to the economic impacts of this crisis.
“Indeed, we have seen huge economic stimulus packages rolled
out around the world, including the US and other rich nations to help their
economies. Developing countries are also doing their best to respond, but the
financial firepower of such countries is far from sufficient and they need as
much help as they can get, as soon as possible.”
That’s why Oxfam is proposing that an Economic Rescue Plan
For All, laying out, first, actions needed to support people and businesses,
and then ways in which money can be found to help pay for these actions:
1. Cash grants to all who need them. Countries should
prioritize a massive increase in social protection benefits, providing mass
cash grants to enable people to survive and subsidies to workers to keep
2. Bail out businesses responsibly. Priority must be given
to supporting small businesses who have the least ability to cope with the
crisis. Bailouts of big corporations should be conditional on measures to
uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and to build a
3. Suspend and cancel debts. All the debt payments of
developing countries should be suspended for a year and, where needed, debts
should be cancelled.
4. Issue Special Drawing Rights. The IMF should issue $1
trillion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as a one-off global economic
5. Increase aid now. Rich nations should immediately
increase aid to support the poorest nations, meeting their commitment of 0.7%
of GDP now, including by giving their fair share to the COVID-19 Global
Humanitarian Response Plan.
6. Adopt emergency solidarity taxes. Mobilize as much
revenue as possible by taxing
extraordinary profits, the wealthiest individuals, speculative financial
products and activities that have a negative impact on the environment.
*UN Bureau Chief and
Regional Director IPS North America, has been covering the U.N. since the late
1970s. A former deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka
Daily News, he was a senior editorial writer on the Hong Kong daily, The
Standard. Thalif Deen is a former Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense
Marketing Services (DMS); Senior Defense Analyst at Forecast International; and
military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group.