The zero sum game witnessed during this pandemic has deepened cleavages and widened inequality across the world
This article is part of the series Colaba Edit 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which we hoped would end soon, continues to reap its tragic harvest of human lives and social and economic losses. As of 23 November 2021, over 258 million people had official confirmation of getting COVID-19, with close to 5.2 million deaths reported. Global GDP contracted by 4.3 percent in 2020, with all the major economies (barring China) experiencing negative growth—the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression. It is also true that the previous financial and economic turndown—which was seen as serious enough to give birth to a new global governance mechanism, the G20 summitry (today’s economic de facto directorate)—saw the global economy experiencing only 1.7 percent of negative growth.
As a result of the pandemic, we also witnessed international trade losing about 7.6 percent of its volume in 2020. While 2021 saw some economic recovery, with estimates ranging around 4.7 percent to 5.6 percent growth, its uneven dynamic would not allow all economies to reach pre-pandemic levels of development. This is especially true for the emerging market and developing economies, with World Bank analysis suggesting that uneven vaccine access is primarily to blame for only one-third of emerging markets and developing economies being able to reach pre-pandemic per capita levels by 2022.
The ongoing health crisis and accompanying lockdowns and other restrictive measures around the world continue to negatively influence a whole range of vital areas of human wellbeing, afflicting micro, small and medium enterprises the most and disrupting several economic sectors, such as those demanding human interactions and mobility. For example, it was estimated, that tourism, which in certain cases represents a large portion of revenue in developing countries (for instance, in the Caribbean states), lost at least 70 percent of its export potential.
While 2021 saw some economic recovery, with estimates ranging around 4.7 percent to 5.6 percent growth, its uneven dynamic would not allow all economies to reach pre-pandemic levels of development.
A drastic situation is developing further in the labour market. In 2020, about 114 million people lost their jobs. At the same time, the picture looks even gloomier if we count in those with reduced working hours—an equivalent of 255 million job losses, which is four times higher than unemployment caused by the 2009 financial crisis. These job losses have impacted women more than men (a 5-percent employment reduction versus 3.9 percent), and youth (under 24 years old) more than the older generation (at 8.7 percent and 3.7 percent respectively). Moreover it is expected that in 2021, the number of jobs for women will be 13 million less than before COVID-19, with this indicator remaining the same for men.
The pandemic has pushed us ever further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Levels of inequality between countries and regions as well as within the countries between the rich and poor have risen considerably. The effects of COVID-19 on the Gini coefficient remains to be calculated, but preliminary estimates suggest that it could gain up to 2 percent annually during the pandemic years. Also, countries have spent unprecedently high amounts of fiscal stimuli to revive their economies and support their citizens. Of the approximately US$12.7 trillion spent, 80 percent was processed by advanced economies in North America and the European Union and Japan, primarily for domestic purposes, with weak influence, if any, on the recovery paths of the developing world. This in turn led to the largest peace time growth of state debt of 15 percent. According to research by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities, by the end of 2020, an additional 71 million to 100 million people globally were pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic, with the general number of the new poor going up by 131 million people.
Countries have spent unprecedently high amounts of fiscal stimuli to revive their economies and support their citizens.
Women remain at the forefront of the pandemic and are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. The pandemic has also exacerbated pre-existing barriers and knocked back progress across several areas, from health to the economy. Compounded socioeconomic impact is felt particularly by women due to their share in the health and education sector, as social workers, informal employment, and unpaid care work. Numerous polls and research conducted over the past two years suggest that at least one out of four women are considering downshifting considerably or leaving the workforce altogether due to higher pressure experienced during the pandemic with intensified work, childcare, and household duties. At the same time, evidence offers examples of a relatively more successful fight against the pandemic with women in leadership positions. Consider, for instance, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who concentrated her policies on issues of equality, environmental sustainability and fair social security, thus brining anti-record incidence COVID-19 rates in the country. But there are very few women in political leadership positions. Estimates show that globally the number of women parliamentarians reaches quarter at best with the “all time high” of 25.5percent this year.
It is estimated that at least every third woman has experienced violence during her lifetime, while the problem has further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the lockdowns. At the same time, it is difficult to provide viable data on this for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that only about one-third of women chose to report such incidents to official bodies and the different evidence provided by monitoring NGOs and official statistics.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, who concentrated her policies on issues of equality, environmental sustainability and fair social security, thus brining anti-record incidence COVID-19 rates in the country.
The pandemic has also influenced education enormously. It was estimated that 1.58 billion students had to move to a distance learning model when their countries went into lockdown. This in turn exacerbated several related problems, such as enhancing further inequality between the advanced economies and poorer countries. One of the primary issues is the lack of necessary infrastructure. According to the International Labour Organization, only 20 percent of households in Southwest Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have access to the internet and even fewer people have personal computers. Inequality was exacerbated within richer countries as well. Russia has a generally well-established ICT infrastructure but working families with several children had to somehow manage with just one computer and share time between work and school duties.
There are several other pandemic-induced problems, but what is important to note is that COVID-19 put humanity through a test that it did not pass. Instead of solidarity, we witnessed disconnectedness, national egoisms prevailed, and geopolitical competition intensified, and a lack of trust and social unrest became characteristic of both international and internal environments. What must be acknowledged is that short-term gains are simply for a short time. The new global divide—and the resultant poorer and less secure world—will eventually offer degraded conditions to the new poor and deprive those with advanced positions of any benefits.
With the COVID-19 pandemic far from ending, and unlikely to be the last to torture humanity, there should be no place for politics. We are either together or there will soon be nothing.
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