Looming crisis in developing countries threatens to devastate economies and ramp up inequality

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The growing COVID-19 crisis threatens to disproportionately hit developing countries, not only as a health crisis in the short term but as a devastating social and economic crisis over the months and years to come.

Income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries. With an estimated 55 percent of the global population having no access to social protection, these losses will reverberate across societies, impacting education, human rights and, in the most severe cases, basic food security and nutrition.

Under-resourced hospitals and fragile health systems are likely to be overwhelmed. This may be further exacerbated by a spike in cases, as up to 75 percent of people in the least developed countries lack access to soap and water.

Additional social conditions, such as poor urban planning and overpopulation in some cities, weak waste disposal services, and even traffic congestion impeding access to healthcare facilities, may all add to the caseload.

“This pandemic is a health crisis. But not just a health crisis. For vast swathes of the globe, the pandemic will leave deep, deep scars,” noted Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Without support from the international community, we risk a massive reversal of gains made over the last two decades, and an entire generation lost, if not in lives then in rights, opportunities and dignity.”

Working in close coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNDP is helping countries to prepare for, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing particularly on the most vulnerable.

UNDP is already working to support health systems in countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Djibouti, El Salvador, Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Nigeria, Paraguay, Panama, Serbia, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

A UNDP-led COVID-19 Rapid Response Facility has already been launched, funded by existing resources and capitalized with an initial US$20 million. This facility is disbursing through a fast-track mechanism enabling UNDP teams to offer immediate assistance to countries for their national response. UNDP anticipates a minimum of $500 million need to support 100 countries.