A clothier in Zambia said her family has felt the pinch of the coronavirus pandemic since the country confirmed its first cases in March. “COVID-19 has led to increased poverty levels in our homes because we are having less income to purchase food items, [and] even the prices of foodstuffs have risen,” Lucy Sunga told a team from World Vision serving in the country.
Aid groups have expressed increasing concern that the pandemic is cutting into incomes and impeding access to food and child protection in several countries. World Vision released a report last week warning that the coronavirus could push people into extreme poverty and hunger on a scale “not seen for decades.” In April, the World Food Program warned the number of people in need of lifesaving food aid could double to 265 million globally this year because of the pandemic. The United Nations has projected that up to 66 million more children could fall into poverty.
World Vision’s report compiles data from 14,000 households in nine Asian countries, more than 2,400 small business owners in Africa, and more than 360 Venezuelan migrants throughout Latin America. One-third of the Asian households reported lost jobs or income due to the pandemic. Some 25 percent of the families said they had no food supply on hand at home.
In response, many families have turned to more dangerous ways to make money. In Cambodia, 28 percent of struggling homes had sent their children to work, and 34 percent in Bangladesh said their children were begging. Ganga Kumari Khadka told interviewers he knew of at least two cases of child marriage during the pandemic in his village of Rupatar, Nepal.
Save the Children released a separate report on Monday finding that deep budget cuts to education combined with rising poverty could permanently force at least 9.7 million children around the world out of school. “Girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into early marriage,” the aid group noted.
VisionFund International, World Vision’s microfinance subsidiary, found that one-third of children among Latin American refugee families are going to bed hungry. “Kids have lost weight since they do not attend school because they are not having one of their meals for the day,” Oly, a Venezuelan grandmother, told World Vision workers.
Small business owners in African countries are struggling to stay afloat. More than half of those interviewed reported reduced demand for their services, while 36 percent said their regular customers could no longer afford to patronize them.
World Vision called on governments and international agencies to scale up child protection programs, secure supply chains for essential goods in vulnerable communities, and provide support for medium and small business owners.
The report warned that COVID-19 could prove as devastating to communities as the West African Ebola outbreak and called for urgent intervention.
“We need to be thinking holistically on what the impact of COVID-19 is and not just on the health crisis,” said Erica Van Deren, the ministry’s senior program manager on humanitarian and emergency affairs.