Pandemic pushes 4.7 million below extreme poverty in Southeast Asia

Bangkok, Mar 16 (EFE).- The disastrous economic fallout of Covid-19 pushed some 4.7 million people in Southeast Asia below the “extreme poverty threshold” in 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic era a year ago, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a report released Wednesday.

“The pandemic has led to widespread unemployment, worsening inequality, and rising poverty levels, especially among women, younger workers, and the elderly in Southeast Asia,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa.

The bank said extreme poverty – living on less than $1.90 a day – affected 24.3 million people in the region, or 3.7 percent of the 650 million South Asian residents.

The poverty rate had declined steadily before the pandemic caused an upheaval in the global economy due to lockdowns and border closures.

The bank projected that the employment gap would remain at 9.3 million and 4.1 million jobs in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

“Thus, the pandemic’s impact on poverty and unemployment will likely persist as inactive workers become de-skilled and poor people’s access to opportunities further deteriorates. When this happens, the deterioration in inequality could transfer across generations,” said the report.

Asakawa urged governments to improve health systems, simplify regulations to boost business competitiveness, invest in infrastructure, and adopt technology to accelerate growth.

By 2022, the bank expects that the regional growth will pick up to 5.1 percent as 400 million or 59 percent of the population in the region becomes fully vaccinated, enabling many economies to reopen.

“However, the spread of the new Omicron variant will likely reduce the growth forecast for the year, as it continues to cause widespread illness and partial lockdowns in the region,” the ADB warned.

In a previous report, the ADB indicated that in 2020 Covid-19 drove between 70 and 80 million people in the entire Asia-Pacific region into extreme poverty.

Southeast Asia largely avoided the virus outbreak in the first year of the pandemic.

But with the explosion of the delta and then the omicron variants, the region registered a widespread spike in infections and deaths.

The vaccination campaign has progressed unevenly, with countries like Singapore where the full schedule of the vaccine has been inoculated to 95 percent of the target population, compared to Myanmar where less than 40 percent of its population have been vaccinated. EFE


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