COVID exposes poverty, inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Ms. Alicia B‡rcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) says the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has “exposed and accentuated the social problems that, unfortunately, characterise our region, such as poverty and inequality”.

Addressing the 19th meeting of the Executive Committee of the Statistical Conference of the Americas (SCA), ECLAC’s executive secretary, Alicia Bárcena, said that poverty is projected to rise 37.3 per cent as a result of COVID, affecting 231 million people. An estimated 98 million people will live in extreme poverty.

ECLAC is forecasting greater inequality in income distribution in Latin America and the Caribbean. Citing the Gini index, which measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income in a country, the commission said the incidence is seen to be increasing between one and eight per cent in the 17 countries studied.

“The pandemic has clearly shown that inequality, a problem that ECLAC has insisted on repeatedly for more than a decade, is not only to be found in academic or technical discourse but instead has concrete and degrading consequences in people’s lives,” Bárcena said.

She said that the precariousness of social protection systems has left “millions of people adrift who, faced with the termination of their jobs, have had to resort to other alternatives for subsistence, unable to respect social distancing measures and exposing themselves to the pandemic’s risks.”

In this context, Bárcena urged countries to continue moving towards “more comprehensive ways of measuring well-being and of rendering social gaps visible through statistical information disaggregated by characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, age group, place of residence and disabilities, so as to leave no one behind”.

“We need to create instruments that account for the perceptions that people have about their own well-being and experiences and incorporate subjective elements into our notion of well-being,” she said.

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