The line chart of millions of people * that shows the pandemic reverses the long-term decline in extreme poverty

"We risk losing everything": Voices from the world's poorest countries on the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is reversing decades of progress in poverty reduction as millions of people in the world's poorest countries are threatened with livelihoods.

Since 1990, more than 1 billion people worldwide have escaped extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, which defines it as living below USD 1.90 per person per day.

But the World Bank predicts that almost 100 million people may no longer be able to meet their basic needs this year because they are between the cracks of inadequate social systems. It has been warned that acute hunger could double in 2020 and affect 260 million people.

73 of the poorest countries in the world that take out submarket loans from the bank – generally considered the poorest and most economically vulnerable countries – can repay debts to official creditors for the rest of this year as part of one of the G20 Group Agreed agreement interrupt the leading nations in April, which gives them financial freedom.

Many workers in these countries do not have the same headroom. People who have worked hard to build businesses and improve their living standards face a potentially catastrophic loss of livelihood. You have to wait for the pandemic to subside to see if its incomes will return.

Edil Mendez

Entrepreneurs, Honduras

A hat seller walks on West Bay Beach in Roatan, Honduras. © William Berry / Alamy


Edil Mendez's tourist-dependent business faces “difficult decisions”.

Edil Mendez moved with his family at the age of only four from the poor northern central department of Yoro to the Honduran holiday island of Roatán.

At 28, the former fireman is now a successful entrepreneur who runs a small hospital for tourists as well as land and air ambulances. He earns enough to feed his four children, four siblings and his mother. But Covid-19 has wiped out tourism and it could ruin it.

"I'll give it until November. If things don't get any better by then, I'll have to make some difficult decisions," said Mendez about the main holiday season in the popular winter sunshine destination in the US, Canada, and Europe. "There's a big risk, tough again to become, and that is very difficult to deal with. I could lose years of work in a few months. "

He already had to close his triple hospital and dismiss six doctors and four other employees. The air ambulance is only 10 percent full. "If things go on like this, we'll have to close this deal too," he said.

Bar chart of% of population in households below the poverty line shows significant progress in poverty reduction over the past two decades

Corruption is widespread in Honduras and Mr. Mendez has no confidence that the government will not vacuum aid to coronavirus companies. Unlike other parts of Honduras, Roatán is not plagued by gang violence, but the island's economy is completely dependent on tourism and many people have lost their jobs. As a result, he said, “There is armed robbery in broad daylight. . . I've never seen so much crime before. "

The local economy started to stall in January. Since then, Mr. Mendez has been unable to make the payments for his house, although he feels "blessed" not to have a bank mortgage, but to buy it directly from the owner, who does not force him to pay.

"I don't want to go back to what it was like when I was a kid – we didn't have much money," he said. "I have worked so hard to give my children a better future and now we risk losing everything."

Deborah Dofernyo

Housekeeper, receptionist and saleswoman, Ghana

Deborah Dofernyo's salary from the guest house where she works keeps her and several relatives afloat


Women with face masks are chatting in the Nima market in Accra, the capital, while Ghana is lifting the partial block. © Francis Kokoroko / Reuters

Deborah Dofernyo had only worked as a housekeeper and receptionist in an Accra guest house for six months when the first coronavirus case occurred in Ghana.

Business had already started to slow down when countries started to close borders and Ghanaians traveled less. A week later, Accra was partially closed and the guest house closed. The 27-year-old was luckier than most informal workers in Ghana – her employer continued to pay her a 100 Cedi ($ 17.30) weekly salary. "(That is) I can pay rent," she said.

But Ms. Dofernyo supports her mother and grandmother, who are both frail, and five younger cousins. She had saved up to send herself to the pharmacy school by selling door-to-door underwear – a business that often doubled her weekly salary.

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The clothing was mainly imported from China, and when the ports were closed, the markets dried up. Now that they have opened again, she could start business again, Ms. Dofernyo said, but she has spent all of her savings. "I have used everything since the small profit I made and even my capital were blocked," she said.

An uncle who worked in the mining industry sent some money to her family, but lost his job due to the pandemic.

But she says the lock was "the right thing, because as soon as there is light, there is hope." Ghana has recorded only 66 deaths so far.

“If we are safe from the virus, we can continue our business. . . Although it hit me hard, it was for our own good, ”she said.

And she hopes to get her business going again in the future. "Now I have to wait some time to get a little money so I can start again," she said. "I don't know how long it will take, but by God's grace I will surely start all over again."

Sherzod Dzhalliov *

Migrant construction worker, Tajikistan

Hundreds of migrants from Central Asia have been stranded in Russia and have been unable to return home as the countries have closed their borders and the airlines have canceled flights. © Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP


Construction workers walk in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in central Moscow © Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Getty

Sherzod Dzhalilov left his village in northern Tajikistan at the age of 21 to live a better life in Russia. He hoped to make enough money to support his family at home.

But at the end of March, when Moscow introduced one of the strictest corona virus barriers in the world – which did not allow residents to leave their homes without permission – the 32-year-old Jalilov had to stop sending money home and began to save to support his wife and daughter in their small suburban apartment.

"I'm not sure what to do about it," he said. "I saved a little bit, but now everything is gone. Many companies close and we don't get any government support."

Mr. Dzhalilov, who asked the Financial Times not to use his real name because he feared that it might attract the attention of the Russian police, is one of the estimated 1.2 million guest workers in Russia from Tajikistan, one of the world's most transferred people. dependent countries.

The $ 2.6 billion they send to their Central Asian homeland of just 9 million people makes up over a quarter of Tajikistan's gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

Bar chart of annual GDP change (%) showing that the pandemic is weighing on economies that have made progress in reducing poverty

Migrant workers are some of the most affected by Russia's pandemic restrictions. Although employers received tax breaks to keep staff on the payroll, workers like Mr. Jalilov were on leave after the Moscow site closed. As a result, the World Bank expects GDP growth in Tajikistan to decrease from 7 percent in 2019 to an estimated 1 percent in 2020.

This could freeze progress in tackling poverty in Tajikistan. Poverty rates fell by an average of just over 3 percent of the population each year from 1999 to 2015, but progress is likely to stall this year.

Mr. Dzhalilov considered returning to Tajikistan but was stranded due to border closures. Although Russia extended migrants' right of residence to September regardless of visa status, Dzhalilov said officials and police officers fined him for violating regulations. "The law doesn't work. They just stop you on the street because you look Central Asian," he said.

Since Moscow allowed work on construction sites to resume in early June, Mr. Jalilov has resumed his two and a half hour commute. Since the cases in Russia still affect almost 8,000 a day, he fears that it won't take long. "There could be a second wave and they'll turn everything off."

* not his real name

Asmeret Andebirhan

Psychiatrist, Ethiopia

Ethiopian doctors attend training in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia © Michael Tewelde / AFP / Getty


A man pushes a handcart past closed shops in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. © Maheder Haileselassie / Reuters

Even before the pandemic, it was a challenge to run a private psychiatric practice in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Many could not afford the services of Asmeret Andebirhan, a 34-year-old psychiatrist, and the insurance does not cover psychiatric treatment outside of state hospitals.

Corona virus only made things more difficult. The income in her clinic, which employs 18 people, has halved. "We will try to keep the business going, but it's a challenge," she said. "The impact will be huge, including mental health."

Many patients have stopped coming because they are afraid to become infected with the virus, which leads to relapse. In the meantime, social distancing has made it more difficult to check patients into the 10-bed clinic and conduct group therapy sessions for outpatients.

Ethiopia has so far avoided complete closure, but the pandemic has affected mental health. "Demand (for services) is increasing, but you can't approach it the way you want because you are affected," said Dr. Asmeret.

She specialized in mental health after being transferred to rural Tigray, where she was affected by the virtual absence of psychiatric care. After establishing the country's first national center for drug addiction there, she founded her clinic in Addis Ababa five years ago. Due to Covid-19, she has now put much of the clinic's treatment online and conducted sessions via Skype or WhatsApp. "I want to take this challenge as an opportunity," she said.

The government expects the economy to grow 3 percent this year. However, this is a far cry from the nearly double-digit expansion that has transformed one of the poorest countries in the world into a middle-income country by 2025 for over two decades. Rising food prices are putting pressure on household budgets.

Dr. Asmeret is confident that if the disease worsens, business can recover, but she fears that the pandemic could affect the fate of others, including the country's emerging middle class. "Both mental health and the economic impact could leave a big scar," she said. "I don't think it will take months to recover. It could take years."

Mujahid Ali

Courier and driver, Pakistan

Mujahid Ali, a driver of Bykea courier, has seen his income drop


Pakistani vendors sell vegetables along a street in Islamabad during a nationwide ban. © Farooq Naeem / AFP / Getty

Mujahid Ali's income has declined in the two months since Pakistan ordered a corona virus ban.

For the past two years, Mr. Ali has worked as a driver for the Bykea hail and parcel delivery service, which relies on bikers to navigate the city's congested streets and narrow streets. He earned enough to buy little luxuries, including a new smartphone and more clothing for his wife and son.

But when the Pakistani government struggled to overcome the economic shock caused by the pandemic, Mr. Ali and others like him suffered. “My last decent monthly income was 40,000 rupees ($ 240). Today I would be lucky to make even a third of it, ”he said. "Nobody could predict that the world would close so soon."

Hundreds of motorcycle couriers and taxi drivers across the island are affected by the disorder. The Pakistani central bank expects gross domestic product to decline by 1.5 percent in 2020 after 3.3 percent in the previous year.

Mr. Ali needs his mobile phone to work, so his declining income has primarily been used to repay the outstanding fees of 5,000 rupees in unpaid installments. He had hoped to get from his motorcycle to a car, which would open up a wider range of job opportunities, but that's not in sight for now.

"For that to happen, I have to make more money," he said. "Like everyone else, I hope the corona virus will go away so I can make more money."

Reporting by Valentina Romei, David Pilling, Jude Webber, Neil Munshi, Max Seddon and Farhan Bokhari