The impacts of the pandemic fall hardest on those most vulnerable – it has exposed (and deepened) inequalities, reflecting fundamental failures in how our world is ordered.
In every society, people already facing discrimination have been the biggest victims of both Covid-19 and its aftershocks. We’ve seen that whilst Covid-19 does not discriminate, societies do.
In January 2020, Sunil Yadav moved from his home in the Indian state of Jharkhand to start a job more than 1,000km away in Delhi. He had defied the odds of growing up in poverty, and being a member of India’s marginalised Adivasi community, to secure a paid apprenticeship. The money he was able to send home was a lifeline for his family.
Three months later, his world collapsed, when the Indian prime minister announced a three-week lockdown. Sunil lost his job and suddenly had no means to house himself, eat or return home. A migrant helpline helped get him home, but now Sunil (like millions around the world) must confront the challenge of how he will support himself and his family.
Racial discrimination is laid bare as Covid-19 hits marginalised communities
In the UK and US, the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on black and brown people has rightly generated public outrage. Once again, in every society, people living in poverty are hit hardest.
In Bangladesh, marginalised Rohingya refugees, living in cramped and unsanitary conditions, are seeing their food supplies cut. And in Latin America, there are huge fears for indigenous communities, who are highly vulnerable to Covid-19, given their higher rates of chronic malnutrition, underlying health conditions and limited access to health services.
Around the world, it is the most marginalised groups, that have been especially vulnerable to the virus and to its economic fall-out.
Women and girls
Everywhere, the pandemic threatens to entrench disparities between women and men, and boys and girls.
Whilst men who contract Covid-19 are significantly more likely to die than women, there is growing evidence that women are bearing the heaviest social and economic burden.
In many countries, women do most of the higher risk work (such as social care and health work) - in Brazil for example more than 80% of nurses are women. Women are also more likely to work in the informal economy, and less likely to benefit from social safety nets designed for workers on regular wages.
Violence against women tends to increase during times of economic crisis, and this has been exacerbated by the lockdown. In El Salvador, cases of gender-based violence have increased more than threefold since its lockdown.
In every society, people living in poverty are hit hardest
People living in poverty are more vulnerable to catching the disease – whether because they live in cramped conditions, lack access to basic sanitation, or need to keep working despite the risk of exposure.
People living in poverty can also be priced out of healthcare. In Nigeria, Myanmar and Afghanistan, more than 70% of all money spent on health comes directly out of people’s pockets, making it unaffordable for many - a disaster during a pandemic.
Previous pandemics have widened the gap between rich and poor, with job losses and lack of income support disproportionately harming workers with only basic levels of education – this is likely to happen again.
Not only are the poorest within societies hit hardest, but the lottery of your birthplace impacts how you experience this crisis.
It’s no secret that there is a gaping inequality between countries. This has been illustrated by the resources available to cope with the pandemic. For example, the UK has over 70 times more doctors per person than Sierra Leone.
Richer countries have so far been able to cope with the worst economic impacts through job protection schemes, support to businesses, and other social safety nets (abandoning their austerity policies).
But poorer countries are struggling to respond– leaving those with the least to fall back on the most vulnerable. For example, Italy and Germany have spent 30-40% of their GDP to deal with the economic impacts of Covid-19, whereas Malawi and Kenya have spent less than 1% of GDP.
Poorer countries are facing the crisis with limited resources and a legacy of underinvestment, due to a combination of imposed austerity, systemic tax abuse by major corporations and vast levels of debt. Nigeria loses three times its annual healthcare budget from tax abuse, whilst 64 of the world’s poorest countries now spending more on debt repayments than on public healthcare.
This lack of resources available means suffering for millions of our global neighbours every day. When we add a global health crisis to the mix, it highlights just how unfair and unjust our world really is.
We must acknowledge and lament the state we’re in
To lament is to allow our hearts to be moved and to protest so deep that it becomes a prayer, to talk to God about the pain we see and feel about the state of the world, pouring out fear and frustrations, and ultimately renewing our trust in God.
During this time, we also reflect on what God might be revealing to us or inviting us to do through our own experiences of the pandemic.