UC Berkeley study finds Global South living standards face significant decline during pandemic

Infographic illustrating Covid-19 Impact on the Global South
Aasha Turner/Staff

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Vulnerable households across the Global South have faced significant living standard declines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a UC Berkeley study found.

The study, published Friday, aimed to investigate the pandemic’s economic impact on households in nine middle- and low-income countries, according to campus postdoctoral scholar and study co-author Michael Walker. These countries included Kenya, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso, among others, Walker added.

“There’s the immediate public health effects of COVID-19, but there is also the potential for a second public health crisis from the economic effects of the pandemic,” Walker said.

The study found that 87% of rural Sierra Leone households, for example, were forced to miss or reduce their meals due to the pandemic. According to Walker, food insecurity was a common thread across the samples. Other findings include a decline in income and employment, as well as increased domestic violence against women and children.

Children also seem to be at a higher risk from continued food insecurity, Walker noted. For example, the study found a 69% increase in the rate of children in Kenya who missed meals, while there was only a 38% increase for adults.

“There may be ongoing effects of the pandemic many years down the line if we aren’t able to better support children and their development in a lot of these countries,” Walker said.

Walker added that the study, which reached household respondents through telephone surveys, used 16 different samples to measure a range of the pandemic’s economic effects, including changes in respondents’ household income, employment status and whether they had received government or assistance from nongovernmental organizations during the pandemic, Walker added.

Many of the study’s respondents work in nongovernmentally regulated, or informal, sectors, according to Walker, and may not appear in official statistics. He added that some households rely on self-sustaining agriculture, for example.

Without a social safety net, such households face exacerbated difficulties when they face a pandemic-related economic challenge, such as getting laid off without the guarantee of unemployment insurance, according to Walker.

“This highlights the need for additional policy responses from governments, as well as international organizations to help support households in lower- and middle-income countries,” Walker said.

UC Berkeley economics professor Clair Brown said she was impressed by the study’s findings, emphasizing the economic downturn’s human impact.

Brown added that she was surprised about the low rate of government assistance to households significantly impacted by the pandemic’s economic aftermath. According to the study, a median of 11% of households received government assistance.

“I thought we would be able to do better than that,” Brown said. “All of the industrialized world should actually be sending much more aid to help the countries that are suffering so badly.”

The findings of this particular study, Brown explained, are also important to changing expectations of how governments and other organizations respond to crises in the global community.

According to Brown, this research emphasizes that wealthier countries must particularly mobilize resources for those suffering abroad and not only those at home.

“We really do need to think beyond our borders,” Brown said. “It’s our moral obligation to not just care for our own people.”

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.