Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

The socio-economic consequences of Covid-19 have a greater impact on already vulnerable populations

Written by Eric Apim on Tuesday, November 23rd 2021 à 16:05 | Read 527 times

The situation of the most vulnerable populations has deteriorated because of Covid-19, as for the education of children (photo: Ibrahim Malla/IFRC)
The situation of the most vulnerable populations has deteriorated because of Covid-19, as for the education of children (photo: Ibrahim Malla/IFRC)
MEDITERRANEAN. A report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned of "the enormous socio-economic impact of Covid-19". According to the report, entitled "On the precipice: the socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic" and released on Monday 22 November 2021, the pandemic has "amplified existing inequalities, created new ones and destabilised communities, reversing the development gains of recent decades".

Loss of jobs (and therefore income), increased food insecurity, reduced access to education and support services, increased mental health problems, violence against women and children - the pandemic has had a very disproportionate impact on different populations. 

The main victims are women. Most often working in the informal economy or in sectors that have suffered from severe health restrictions (such as tourism), they are the first to be affected by job losses. A study conducted by the Spanish Red Cross showed that 18% of the women using its assistance had lost their jobs compared to 14% of the men. In addition, confinement leads to greater social isolation and more domestic violence. 27% of women reported an increase in mental health problems, compared to only 10% of men, according to a Care International paper  in September 2020.

Vulnerable people even closer to the precipice

Urban dwellers (due to the nature of jobs and precarious access to housing and health care) and those on the move are also among those most affected. In Turkey, urban dwellers have developed new needs as a result of the pandemic, including business owners and their employees, whose business was impacted by the curfews, the report notes for example. In Lebanon, the level of indebtedness of Syrian refugees increased and their situation deteriorated more than that of Lebanese nationals.

"The most vulnerable were the people and groups most neglected by society, those who were already drowning just below the surface," the report says. The situation is analysed from interviews and reports in ten countries*, including Spain, Lebanon and Turkey in the Mediterranean.

"Our study confirms what we have long suspected and feared: that the destructive indirect consequences of this pandemic have damaged the social fabric and will be felt for years, if not decades. People who were already vulnerable, due to conflict, climate change and poverty, have been pushed further over the edge. And many people who were previously able to cope have become vulnerable, requiring humanitarian support for the first time in their lives," comments Francesco Rocca, President of the IFRC.

Beirut port explosion indirectly transmits coronavirus

In March 2021, a Spanish Red Cross survey of 1,500 beneficiaries revealed that 43% said they were "always" or "most of the time" worried. 29% said they felt sad during the first containment (March and April 2020) and 25% said they were depressed.

While it remains difficult to distinguish between the socio-economic consequences attributable to Covid-19 and the other difficulties facing the country, as the IFRC report indicates, Lebanon is particularly suffering.
The explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 ($3.8-4.6m in damage and $2.9-3.5bn in economic losses) further aggravated the situation. Lebanese were relocated "in very close proximity, which is very favourable to the spread of Covid-19. In addition, hospitals were damaged, including an anti-Covid-19 centre. These factors contributed to the spread of the coronavirus and led to an increase in the number of cases, which put additional pressure on the city's health infrastructure," says the Geneva-based institution.

Lebanon is home to some 1.5 million displaced Syrians and about 200,000 Palestinian refugees. "Syrians are finding it extremely difficult to meet their humanitarian needs. In 2020, only 20% of displaced Syrians over 15 years of age had a residence permit, and only 11% of Syrian households had an official residence to accommodate all their family members," said a document published in March 2021 by the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs and the UN. The INFORM (Index for risk management) risk index, which measures the scale and severity of humanitarian crises, ranks the local socio-economic crisis at 3.7 (high) out of 5, and the Syrian refugee crisis at 3.5 (high) out of 5.

Harmful coping strategies

The same problems are identified in Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, 56,600 of whom live in camps, according to the UNHCR. Between January and May 2020, "the share of needs related to the financial situation of refugees more than doubled, from 33% to 67%. In contrast, the proportion of legal documentation needs fell from 20 per cent to 12 per cent, and that of children at risk from 17 per cent to 8 per cent," a July 2020 Red Crescent Society document points out. "The number one priority for vulnerable refugees and the host community was not Covid-19 per se, but the economic problems it created," the IFRC report said. For example, "41% of Turks supported in Turkish Red Crescent Society community centres had lost their jobs or been put on unpaid leave. The number of people supported by the Turkish Red Crescent Society with no income increased from 6% (before the pandemic) to 32%.

In a survey of some 4,000 households that had applied for assistance from the emergency social safety net system, almost 80% of respondents had at least one person in their household who had lost their job due to the pandemic. In September 2021, a study by the IFRC and the Turkish Red Crescent Society, funded by the European Union, referred to "harmful coping strategies". It cited the use of credit to buy food and the restriction of spending on health, education and food.

The IFRC also emphasised vaccine inequity. "Differences between countries in access to vaccines and immunisation, in their capacity to use other public health measures to reduce transmission, and in their fiscal capacity to stimulate recovery, set the stage for an uneven economic recovery," the report warns.

"We have consistently warned that inequitable distribution of vaccines will not only contribute to continued high rates of transmission but also prolong or exacerbate the consequences of the pandemic. As long as we continue to let profits trump people and richer countries continue to hoard doses, it will not be possible to say that the pandemic is behind us," says Francesco Rocca.

* Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Turkey

Read the full report "On the edge of the precipice: the socio-economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic

Read the report "Drowning just below the surface: The socioeconomic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic" in English

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