Impact of COVID-19 on Global Poverty and Hunger

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As we all know, the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), has emerged in China as early as 2019. It took a few months for this epidemic to turn into a global pandemic which already infected millions of people. The unprecedented spread of this virus around globe has prompted many governments to take unprecedented actions such as nationwide curfews. Flights are grounded. International travel is almost forbidden. Tourism and restaurant business were down. Large scale events were all postponed and cancelled. We have not yet seen the full impact of the economic shock, but it is expected to be as deep as the one experienced after the sub-prime crises. 

The resulting economic recession due to the virus situation are having devastating effects on many households. The lockdowns have particularly affected the poor and the unhealthy. The question of whether this will be a temporary shock or a long-term trend is still unanswered. In this article I look at the impact on global poverty and hunger outlook from sustainable development perspective. Specifically, I discuss how the current situation is going to affect the UN sustainable development goals: SDG #1 (no poverty) and SDG #2 (zero hunger).

SDG 1: No Poverty

SDG1 aims to eradicate poverty in all forms by 2030. There is a special emphasis on eradicating poverty among vulnerable segments of the society. Unfortunately, the spread of the deadly Coronavirus has only increased the woes and sufferings of the poor and the vulnerable segments of the society. Millions of people lost their jobs. Those who work in daily jobs were affected the worst. The sudden loss of income and poverty was particularly evident in migrant communities such as laborers. Not only their families are at risk of extreme poverty, but also they found themselves in a desperate situation. Adding to this problem, many migrant workers are stuck abroad without any income as many flights are grounded.

However, the world has also realized the importance of social security during crises. The countries that have solid social security systems with unemployment benefits fared way better than those with do not have social protection. Perhaps, their success could set good examples for future labor policies. Also, the fiscal and monetary stimulus packages initiated by leading economies are likely to boost economies back in track. The impact of COVID-19 has brought the issue of poverty in the limelight and many individuals. Similarly, the world has also realized the need for unity in providing access to basic services, such as improved drinking water and sanitation.

SDG2: Zero Hunger

SDG 2 aims to eliminate all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. In order to achieve this goal, the governments need to promote sustainable agricultural practices; offer their citizens healthy and affordable food. The initial social response during the pandemic was to stock as much as possible. However, due to travel restrictions, transportation of agricultural produce was negatively affected. Many farmer markets were closed, forcing the farmers to dump their produce. Equally important, the food-processing factories were shut down due to Covid-19 cases among workers.

The pandemic has also forced people to cook and eat healthy food at home. The boosted demand for healthy food is likely going to have a long-term effect on consumer preferences. Thus, we might observe sustained demand for organic and healthy food. Hopefully, the demand for junk food might be reduced in long term. One thing for sure is that food security will be back in national security agendas and may take some funds from defense into agriculture. The investment in agriculture might also serve to reduce poverty among rural households.

[1] An extended version of this article covering the impact of Covid-19 on UN-SDGs are available as a working article here:




Author: Dr. Osman Gulseven

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