News ID: 280854
Published: 1152 GMT February 19, 2021

Number of people in need frightening, we need global response

Number of people in need frightening, we need global response
A seven-year-old boy begs on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

By Axel van Trotsenburg*

The numbers are well-publicized but bear repeating. Around 120 million more people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, a number that could rise to 150 million in 2021. An estimated 250 million jobs have been lost around the world, and the number of people affected by acute food insecurity was estimated to have doubled to 272 million by the end of last year. A decade of progress in the most fragile countries wiped out.

Let’s put a human dimension on these numbers. More than a billion children have been out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic, and girls are much less likely to return to the classroom, according to

These kids are not only missing out on learning; they will be less likely to find jobs and fulfil their potential.

People who have lost their main source of income are struggling to feed their immediate households and are unable to send much-needed remittances to their families in rural areas.

To halt the destruction of lives and livelihoods, the international community must act swiftly to accelerate support for countries to enable them to sustainably recover and secure a better future for their people.

As an immediate priority, we need to ensure that low-income countries have full access to vaccines now being rolled out in advanced economies. The risk is real that these countries will not be able to get the supplies they need to protect their people. The international community needs to ensure that equitable and fair access to vaccines is not only rhetoric but a reality.

Second, substantial resources must be committed to low- and middle-income countries. In the past six months, many nations have put in place measures to mitigate social and economic impacts of the pandemic. Industrialized countries have spent up to 20% of their GDP on stimulus packages. But for the poorest countries, that figure is less than 2%.

It is crucial for countries to invest in their recovery, but if a broader approach is not taken, we risk widening the gap between rich and poor countries even further.

The World Bank has been increasing availability of resources from the International Development Association, our fund for the poorest countries, and is on track to commit up to $55 billion (£40 billion) to the poorest countries over the period of April 2020-June 2021.

But debt relief is needed to free resources so governments can combat the virus while keeping other critical services operating. The G20’s debt relief initiative has helped. What is needed now is more private-sector participation.

Pandemics, widespread recessions and the climate crisis do not respect national borders. Response must be global.

Critical transitions are necessary in our energy systems, food systems, and transport and urban systems. We must build resilience across all facets of the economy, promoting greener growth and strengthening human capital through better services for health, education, housing, water and social protection.

We must also prioritize guarding against future crises — not just tackling climate impacts, which are at the front of many people’s minds today, but also through macroeconomic stability, social systems and infrastructure.

Deepening inequalities mean we must urgently target interventions to the most disadvantaged, particularly women, girls and children with disabilities. Social protection systems need to be inclusive, supporting vulnerable households while preventing non-poor households from falling into poverty.

Strong and sustained international cooperation is essential. The longer we delay, the deeper the damage will be, not just in developing countries but everywhere.

The response of the international community to the crisis is under intense scrutiny, as it should be. A “business as usual” approach will not deliver. Without resilient foundations, countries will be trapped in costly cycles of setback and recovery.

The World Bank will continue to work with international institutions and country authorities to help coordinate the world’s response.

By working together, we can rise to the challenge of a green, resilient and inclusive global recovery for all.


* Axel van Trotsenburg is managing director of operations at the World Bank.

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