- The COVID-19 pandemic may increase the number of people battling acute hunger, the United Nations says.
- Climate change policies are coming second as officials focus on fighting the virus.
- Income losses for informal economy workers could be “massive”, according to the International Labour Organization.
- The pandemic could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies, the UN warns.
- Many mass vaccination campaigns are being temporarily suspended.
The impact of the coronavirus crisis might be extending further than you think.
It’s no longer just the human and economic costs of the pandemic sparking the concern of scientists and humanitarians – other crises are at risk of being neglected by policy-makers or unwittingly exacerbated by the outbreak.
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Here are five areas in which COVID-19 could have a significant effect.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.
The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.
As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 leaves some of the world’s most vulnerable communities facing “a crisis within a crisis”, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Around the world, the economic downturn and rising unemployment will reduce people’s purchasing power, exacerbating the global hunger problem.
The 55 countries that are home to acutely food-insecure people in need of urgent humanitarian food and nutrition assistance “may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the coronavirus to have them die from hunger,” according to the Global Report on Food Crises 2020.
“The number of people battling acute hunger and suffering from malnutrition is on the rise yet again, says António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “And the upheaval that has been set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic may push even more families and communities into deeper distress.”
The climate was supposed to be top of the political and business agendas in 2020. Saving the planet was one of the key themes of the World Economic Forum’s 2020 meeting in Davos, where environmental activist Greta Thunberg addressed delegates.
Since then the climate emergency has taken a back seat as policy-makers focus on containing the pandemic. But the problem isn’t going away – 2019 was the second-hottest year on record.
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?
Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.
To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.
This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.
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While some argue the reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions due to lockdowns serves as an illustration of what can be achieved, others say concrete plans to take action are being shelved. In New York, carbon monoxide levels shrank to half their usual March levels and in China, the initial lockdown saw pollution levels fall 25%.
“The coronavirus has shown us the scale of the response needed to fight the climate crisis,” says Emily Kirsch, founder and managing partner, Powerhouse Ventures, in a Forum article about the issue.
The global economy will contract 3% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, a deeper downturn than that seen in the 2008–09 financial crisis. That’s likely to push unemployment up across the board, with the Fund predicting the unemployment rate will rise to 10.4% this year, from 3.7% in 2019, and to 9.2% from 6.6% in advanced European countries.
But it’s not just those in formal employment that give rise to concern. More than 2 billion people worldwide working in the informal economy are among the most vulnerable, according to the International Labour Organization.
“They often have poor access to health-care services and have no income replacement in case of sickness or lockdown,” the ILO says in a report. “Many of them have no possibility to work remotely from home. Staying home means losing their jobs, and without wages, they cannot eat.”
Income losses for informal economy workers will probably be “massive”, the ILO says, with its estimates showing their earnings declined by 60% globally in the first month of the crisis.
4. Vaccination programmes
Measles and polio vaccine programmes are being postponed amid fears that the contact needed to deliver them could spread coronavirus.
At the end of March, the World Health Organization released guidance to help countries sustain immunization services but recommended mass vaccination campaigns be temporarily suspended, underscoring how tricky it is to balance ensuring the safety of health workers and protecting people against preventable diseases.
Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) forecast carrying on with routine immunisation in Africa would prevent between 29 to 347 future child deaths for each excess COVID-19 death due to an infection acquired during a vaccination visit.
“Without vaccination these deaths could result from a range of diseases including measles, yellow fever, pertussis, meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhoea,” LSHTM says.
The research suggests the health benefits of deaths prevented by sustaining routine childhood immunisation in Africa outweigh the excess risk of COVID-19 deaths associated with vaccination clinic visits, according to Kaja Abbas, assistant professor in disease modelling at LSHTM.
5. Unintended pregnancies
The UN warns that a lack of access to family planning, coupled with lockdowns and major disruptions to health services, could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies in the coming months. Facilities are closing, women are skipping medical appointments for fear of catching the virus and it’s becoming more difficult to get contraceptives due to disrupted supply chains.
Should health services remain disrupted and lockdowns continue for six months, some 47 million in these countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives, the analysis by the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, and its partners, shows.
It’s not just unintended pregnancies highlighted in the report – it predicts there could also be a rise in gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriages, as the lockdown holds back preventative programmes.
“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” says Dr Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA. “The pandemic is deepening inequalities.”