THE INEQUALITY VIRUS – How Coronavirus Preys on The Vulnerable
Coronavirus threatens us all. And it is clear how it is exposing and exploiting the extreme inequality that defines our world – and preying on the world’s most vulnerable people. The virus is on everyone’s minds and in the next few episodes we want to give listeners content and perspectives that connect different issues and explore the relationship between coronavirus and inequality – from what it means for the world’s workers and for women, to the powerful role of public health systems and the long-term impacts on our global economy. Today, we kick off with a conversation between Nadia, Max and Nabil.
Max, Nadia and Nabil start by sharing their experiences working from home. Nadia is based in the United States while both Max and Nabil are based here in Kenya. Schools are closed in both countries so they all have to balance work and childcare…(One of them just realized his kids don’t respect him! Have a listen to find out which one). One of the greatest outcomes of having their kids at home, is the massive respect they have developed for teachers. The trio looks at corona virus from a gendered lens. Nadia notes, “it’s women who are going to bear the brunt of having to teach their children. It’s women who are going to be caring for the younger ones, and the older ones. It’s women who are going to be doing the extra dishes, the extra laundry that’s piling up and it’s women who are in the most precarious jobs and are most vulnerable at this time.” Max adds, “70% of the world’s health workers are women. So the people on the frontline, fighting this virus and getting sick, are also women.”
What about the impact on work and employment rates? Max shares an example of the horticulture industry in Kenya, which heavily relies on the export of cut flowers to Europe. “They just made redundant 50,000 workers last week and almost all women…In supply chains all over the world, it is women that are losing their jobs”. Nadia shares a staggering statistic, “Virginia last year had an average 65 unemployment claims. 65 per day. Last week, there were 400 claims on Monday, 2000 on Tuesday, 4000 on Wednesday and 8000 on Thursday! This is a trend we are seeing all over the world: Millions of workers are losing their jobs.”
Nabil reflects on economic inequality “if you’re richer wherever you may be, you are going to more likely have access to healthcare. You are going to have cash to get by your reserves, whereas most of humanity are facing the crisis with neither of those things. 1 in 2 of us around the world earn less than USD 5.50 a day and illness as we know is so associated with poverty.” Max agrees and looks at the difference between places such as the US which have some kind of safety net (unemployment cheques and social security) as opposed to other countries such as Kenya where majority have to live pay cheque to pay cheque. People can’t afford to miss a day or 2 of work before they don’t have any food. Nadia, also in agreement, talks about how different rich countries are putting in place economic packages such as the United States’ 2 Trillion USD stimulus to help their citizens but notes that won’t be is possible in so many other poorer countries.
Nabil, reflecting on his personal experience from friends and family in the US, UK and Pakistan notes how different healthcare systems in rich and poor countries are being hit differently. “…More than half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are 50% in debt, while in rich countries are able to set up hospitals and they’re not lacking trillions to put back in their economy.” Max draws back on the Financial Crisis, how the world rallied in 2009 and put together a whole package that helped poor countries… “we really need that kind of (collective) action from rich countries. On one hand to free up the space for developing countries, such as suspending or cancelling their debt payments so that they have more money of their own to spend….then on the other hand we need a dramatic increase in aid especially for health, as much as possible…if the virus is anywhere, then it’s everywhere…if ever there was a collective action problem it’s this one.”
Nadia agrees and says, “this is where the role of multilateralism and the role of groups such as the IMF, the World Bank, the G20 comes in…It is difficult because rich countries themselves are also facing this in a really hard way. New York is now the new epicentre along with Spain and before that, Italy. These are countries that we also expect to step up in regards to aid”… “Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF has said that the IMF is ready to deploy their USD 1 Trillion in reserve to support countries in need at the moment. The World Bank has announced at least 14 Billion USD and will announce more soon probably. So, there is a lot of money in these multilateral institutions that needs to be activated…transparently and responsibly. Where that money goes is important but the implications on the repayment of that money is also something that we can’t forget and have to learn lessons from 2008 and 2009 regarding that.” Max strongly adds in agreement, “we can’t have another decade of austerity where poor countries are forced to pay back…”
What do politics have to do with it? Max is a bit pessimistic based on the current state of national politics in rich countries and in the G20. “The narrow nationalism or populism: multilateralism is probably at its lowest when we need it to be its strongest in history… the gap between the quality of our politicians and the size of the task is really dramatic.” Nabil says the pandemic exposes how “the road of narrow nationalism is a road to nowhere, because it doesn’t even help the rich countries. It doesn’t help anybody…” Nabil is hopeful that this pandemic will act as a springboard, a global wake up call that we do need to work together as it’s the only way to fight a crisis.”
Max hopes that Nabil is right because if ever there was a case for universal healthcare for all, this is it. He gives examples of countries such as Costa Rica, Thailand and Sri Lanka. These are poor countries that have very good healthcare systems that are managing the crisis very well.
Is there hope? Nabil says, “if you look at history, the world is rebuilt through times of shock. We shouldn’t take our eyes off how our economies are currently being rebuilt. (For instance,) We are seeing economic stimulus packages.” … “There is hope. We have shown that things can happen, and we have to fight for a fairer world after this virus!” … “there can be no going back to the kind of world we have been having!”
To listen in, head on to The Inequality Virus . If you have interesting angles you would want us to look into and discuss, please email email@example.com. Similarly, if you have any stories to share on this virus and how it impacts inequality from your personal experiences or what you are seeing around you, share your story at firstname.lastname@example.org