ASIA – Poverty and risks of a “lost generation” due to the pandemic

What impact will the Covid-19 pandemic have in the short-term future in Asia? What are its effects on poverty, a plague that not only affects the Asian continent, but as can be seen in the past, reached extreme peaks in Asia? How do States behave to respond to the widening of poverty?

According to the World Bank, “the COVID-19 shock is not only keeping people in poverty, but also creating a class of new poor”. In the fall of last year, the International Bank born in Bretton Woods in the 1940s published an estimate according to which, in the course of 2020, the number of people living in poverty in the region is expected to increase by as many as 38 million in 2020, “including 33 million who would have otherwise escaped poverty, and another 5 million pushed back into poverty, using a poverty line of $5.50/day.

A new report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) claims that, worldwide, more than 250 million people lost their jobs during the pandemic: the crisis – notes the director general of ILO Guy Ryder – threatens to produce a “lost generation”. Even before the report presented in recent weeks, ILO had for example estimated some millions of workers in the Asia-Pacific area who, before the pandemic had stable incomes guaranteed by the tourism sector but who, following Covid-19, found themselves at risk of slipping into poverty.

The pandemic does not seem to have spared any sector (textiles, for example, very widespread in Asia, retail trade, informal work) but, at the same time, a report by the “Boao Forum for Asia”, a non-profit organization based in Beijing and chaired by former UN secretary Ban Ki Moon, analyzed the trend of poverty reduction policies in Asia, highlighting some positive results.

The Asia Poverty Reduction Report 2020 in fact tries to summarize the latest developments, results and experiences in poverty reduction in Asia. According to the report, the pandemic has become the most direct element affecting the continent’s poverty and due to the Covid-19 shock and income inequality has increased faster than in the pre-pandemic era. Furthermore, given that Asia is undergoing rapid economic and social transformations, “the region has a lot to improve in infrastructure, public services and emergency management capacity” while “disadvantaged groups are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of accidents that concern public safety”. The report predicts that nearly half of the population facing this new wave of world poverty will be concentrated in South Asia. However, Asia in general remains the major protagonist in global poverty reduction.

“Due to its extraordinary growth, the economic and social transformation of Asia has also fundamentally changed the landscape of the global economy and poverty management. In 2019, the incidence rates of poverty in developing countries in Asia – the report writes – had fallen below 3%. When measured by income poverty indicators, the incidence rate of extreme poverty in Asia is only 1.85%. The region is entering a critical phase characterized by the elimination of extreme poverty and the opening of a new era marked by the reduction of relative poverty”. In any case, Asia – concludes the survey – “should gain ground in achieving the first goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, which is precisely: Overcoming poverty”. (MG-PA) (Agenzia Fides 13/2/2021)