Understanding what data tell us about COVID-19’s socio-economic impact

December 2, 2020


The unrelenting impact of COVID-19 reminds us why the United Nations Secretary-General calls the pandemic a "human crisis.” Hard-won pathways to peace and prosperous human development are being reversed in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, where three and a half million COVID-19 infections have been reported so far. The 30 countries with the highest infections include Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. Low capacity may mean actual infection and mortality rates are higher.

Beyond primary effects, UNDP has determined that the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting fragile contexts hard across the economic, environmental, human, social, political, and security dimensions.

Our analysis draws from over 100 Socio-economic Impact Assessments UNDP led.  These assessments collate data in each country, to inform and tailor Socio-economic Recovery Plans that ensure. We’ve found that the pandemic is exacerbating fragilities in several ways.

Tens of millions of people living in fragile contexts are expected to fall into extreme poverty . UNDP has found that containment measures, the global recession, and lower commodity prices are decreasing government revenue, increasing poverty levels and jeopardizing livelihoods. In Lesotho, UNDP found that COVID-19 increased the number of vulnerable households by nearly 50 percent due to loss of employment and income. As part of the National Response, UNDP is supporting Lesotho to meet emerging needs, including linking local producers with e-commerce markets.

Food insecurity is pushing people towards chronic hunger. Food prices are rising in places with high food import dependency such as Syria, where UNDP found monthly food costs to increase by 240 percent and the number of food insecure people to increase by 1.4 million, and Sudan, where a staple crop’s retail price more than doubled. UNDP is supporting the Government of Sudan with innovations in food and water security through the Green Climate Fund, which recently approved US$25.6 million for climate resilience.

The pandemic is unleashing a human development crisis. Some human development dimensions are at levels of deprivation not seen since the 1980s according to UNDP’s Human Development Report. In Guatemala, UNDP expects infant and maternal mortality to increase by one-third. In Syria, 70 percent of Palestinian refugees surveyed by UNDP report that COVID-19 has negatively affected the mental health of their households. UNDP supported Syria’s first online psychosocial support platform. In the two months since its August 2020 launch, more than 2,500 women and young girls grappling with stress caused by COVID-19 were served.

The pandemic is hitting the world’s most vulnerable people hardest, with significant implications for marginalized groups, as well as women and girls. Gender inequality is rising in fragile contexts. In Ethiopia, UNDP found that women represent 80 percent of the workforce in two of the hardest hit sectors, tourism and hospitality, and are the most likely to lose their jobs. UNDP is working with the public and private sectors of Ethiopia to launch inclusive temporary job creation opportunities and compensation programmes.   

COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on state accountability and transparency. Protests in fragile contexts have surpassed heights set in 2019 according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project. Concerns over corruption and police brutality have turned violent. UNDP and the African Union found many incidents of extrajudicial killings by police during enforcement of movement and lock-down restrictions in the Horn of Africa. In Gambia, UNDP found that half of prison inmates are on remand; one remand ward was the epicentre of a COVID-19 super-spreader event. To increase access to justice while reducing backlog, UNDP supported Gambia to launch its first Virtual Courts.

The highest rates of COVID-19 infections are in contexts with high burdens of violence. UNDP and the African Union found that clashes increased in several fragile contexts. In South Sudan, crime increased 46 per cent in one state. In Central African Republic, UNDP found that gender-based violence increased 69 percent since the start of the pandemic. UNDP is working with civil society and the government to inform the public of the increased risk of violence and how to recognize, prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

UNDP’s data and analysis allowed us to recognize trends concerning the secondary impact of COVID-19 since the beginning of the crisis. The evidence helps UNDP’s country offices design and invest in response and recovery initiatives in a timely and flexible way, bolstering government and community efforts to address fragility, reduce needs and reinforce local resilience to prevent the crisis from widening. Venezuela, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia are among the ten largest socio-economic response plans of the more than 100 finalized with UNDP support.

While official development assistance was being directed towards humanitarian and health measures to respond to COVID-19, UNDP redirected its own funding to kick-start vital recovery efforts in fragile contexts. Early on, nearly half of UNDP’s Rapid Response Facility of US$30 million was allocated to fragile contexts, which catalysed an additional US$304 million or half, of UNDP’s COVID-19 response in fragile contexts. Alongside this, UNDP continues to invest over half of its budget of US$6 billion in 2020 to fragile contexts, making good on our global commitment to leave no one behind, especially during this pandemic.