• Millions more people could be pushed into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new United Nations study says.
  • A sluggish economic recovery will add 200 million to the number of the world’s poorest.
  • But this could be avoided if we accelerate global development efforts.
  • If we take the right actions, the number in extreme poverty could even fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic could push another 200 million people into extreme poverty unless action is taken to accelerate development efforts, according to a new United Nations report.

If economic recovery from the pandemic is “long, uneven and highly uncertain”, as the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund forecast recently, the UN warns 1 billion people could be living in the most abject poverty by 2030.

The prediction is contained in a study looking at how the pandemic could affect the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It sets out three possible post-COVID-19 scenarios.

The UN’s projections for global poverty resulting from COVID-19.
The UN’s projections for global poverty resulting from COVID-19.
Image: UNDP

‘SDG push’

The worst case, which would lead to 207 million more people facing extreme poverty, assumes that 80% of the economic harm caused by the pandemic persists for a decade. But the UN says we can prevent this from happening.

If the global community focuses on achieving the SDGs over the next 10 years, the situation would be reversed with 146 million lifted out of dire poverty. This would put the world on a faster track to end the worst levels of poverty than was expected before the pandemic, the UN says.

But without an “SDG push”, even if there is a stronger-than-expected recovery, 44 million more people could be condemned to live in extreme poverty by 2030. The future depends on the decisions we take today, according to Achim Steiner, UN Development Programme Administrator.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a tipping point, and the choices leaders take now could take the world in very different directions,” he said. “We have an opportunity to invest in a decade of action that not only helps people recover from COVID-19, but that resets the development path of people and planet towards a fairer, resilient and green future.”

Collective action

We all have a part to play in helping to accelerate development and save millions more people from being forced into extreme poverty, the study says.

At its heart, the report – produced jointly with the University of Denver – calls on leaders and citizens to unite to rebalance the relationship between nature, climate and economy. This means eating less meat, using water and energy more efficiently and boosting investment in renewable energy.

The report highlights government actions to help people plunged into poverty by the effects of the pandemic, including schemes like Spain’s minimum income guarantee, which has lifted 850,000 households and 2.3 million individuals out of poverty.

coronavirus, health, COVID19, pandemic

What is the World Economic Forum doing to manage emerging risks from COVID-19?

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications - a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

More needs to be done to lift the burden on women carrying out unpaid domestic work during lockdowns, including caring for those with COVID-19, says the report. It commends Uruguay for its publicly funded care system for children, the elderly and those with disabilities.

A crucial moment

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate and transform global development through an unprecedented crisis,” the report adds.

“By redirecting our efforts along proven development pathways, we can enhance future development and ensure that our new trajectory is more resilient than the one we were on prior to the pandemic.”

It’s a view that’s echoed in the World Economic Forum’s COVID-19 Risks Outlook, which says that if the right post-pandemic actions are taken we can create “more cohesive, inclusive and equal societies”.