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Navigating Commonwealth’s pandemic-induced challenges

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The economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic pose a substantial threat to the progress made in eradicating poverty, outlined by the Sustainable Development Goal 1 (SDG 1) in least developed countries (LDCs) through various action programs.

Current estimates indicate that an additional 35 million people in LDCs are now living in severe poverty, surviving on less than US$1.90 per day as a direct result of the pandemic and efforts to “contain” it. The rising poverty lines in LDCs are exacerbated by heightened food-security threats stemming from the Covid-19 disruptions, especially in the poorer sections of the Commonwealth countries.

The pandemic disproportionately impacted Commonwealth nations, mainly due to factors such as economic vulnerability, heavy reliance on sectors like tourism that were significantly disrupted, agricultural activities being curtailed, and the global recession triggered by the pandemic in addition to the volatile food and energy markets due to ongoing geopolitical conflicts. 

Many Commonwealth countries, especially the LDCs in the island states and territories, faced severe economic consequences as their economies depended heavily on sectors that suffered during the pandemic.

Additionally, the crisis underscored existing weaknesses and territorial disparities, revealing a need for regional resilience in Commonwealth nations. These factors collectively hampered sustainable development objectives for the Commonwealth, emphasizing the need for strategic interventions to address these vulnerabilities.

The pandemic further disrupted agricultural activities, causing disruptions in food supply networks and increasing prices for staple items such as wheat, poultry and vegetables. This had regressive implications for the sustainable development goal of Zero Hunger (SDG 2).

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, World Food Program (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) report that moderate to severe food insecurity is prevalent in countries with low and middle incomes, with a slightly higher prevalence rate among women than men across every continent.

The severe economic impacts of Covid-19 resulted in increased unemployment across virtually all Commonwealth LDCs. Women, constituting a significant portion of the workforce in service industries such as retail and tourism, were disproportionately affected by the restrictions imposed to combat Covid-19.

In the 54 Commonwealth countries, Covid-related lockdowns disproportionately affected informal-sector employees, many of whom lack adequate financial reserves, access to modern technology, and the ability to engage in remote work and are often subject to discrimination. These challenges undermined the progress in achieving Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8) and significantly impact SDG 10, which aims to reduce socio-economic inequalities.

In 2021, the United Nations General Assembly commemorated the 50th anniversary of establishing the LDC category. This milestone followed the conclusion of the Istanbul Program of Action (IPoA) for LDCs, spanning from 2011 to 2020.

It also marked the beginning of a new action plan covering 2022 to 2031, aligning closely with the concluding decade of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The long-term developmental consequences of the pandemic in LDCs, particularly in terms of education, may not be felt for years. Many learners, especially females, in LDCs have experienced delays in their education due to school closures and declining household finances. Limited access to technology for remote education during pandemic-induced lockdowns further exacerbated the impact on students in LDCs.

The impact of Covid-19 on teaching and learning had a class dimension, particularly in LDCs and developing members of the Commonwealth. The success of interventions to “save the school year” depended on parents’ ability to teach their children at home or engage in remote teaching, which, in the absence of necessary digital skills or low literacy and education levels, hindered some parents’ participation.

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The varying levels of teachers’ digital skills also negatively affected children’s well-being, hindering progress toward achieving quality education (SDG 4).

Concerning gender equality (SDG 5), the Covid-19 outbreak unfolded in a manner that suggested women were experiencing the pandemic differently from men, despite a lower fatality rate. Overall, vulnerabilities resulting from women’s gender roles and uneven social positions are heightened.

Differing demands emerged within and outside countries, contributing to financial setbacks and profoundly impacting post-pandemic socio-economic equity. This led to significant sociological and psychological challenges, exacerbating existing issues in critical sectors like health, education, gender equality, and poverty.

The challenges underdeveloped countries face, particularly those within the Commonwealth, are significant and require urgent attention. Addressing these challenges necessitates equitable vaccine distribution, strengthened health-care systems, economic recovery measures prioritizing job creation and supporting vulnerable sectors, access to quality education, and gender-responsive policies.

By focusing on these areas, the international community can work toward building a more equitable and resilient post-pandemic world, placing socio-economic stability at the forefront of development efforts.

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Source: Asia Times

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