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Without Urgent Aid, Warns Oxfam, Coronavirus Could Throw Half a Billion People Into Poverty Worldwide

"We can only beat this virus through coming together as one...Rich country governments must massively upscale their help."

A government health official sprays a chlorine solution in the streets as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Nairobi on March 19, 2020. (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

A government health official sprays a chlorine solution in the streets as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Nairobi on March 19, 2020. (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

International charity Oxfam International said Thursday that to keep half a billion people from being thrown into poverty around the world as a result of social distancing and lockdown orders which have brought global economies to a halt, world leaders must immediately agree to an Economic Rescue Plan for All to support developing countries.

In its new report, "Dignity Not Destitution," Oxfam calls on wealthy economies to immediately cancel $1 trillion in debts from developing nations and to issue a $1 trillion stimulus package which countries could draw from in order to increase their health spending, support small businesses, and keep unemployed people from falling deeper into poverty. 

A failure to do so could leave six to eight percent of the global population impoverished during the economic shutdowns put in place to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and half the globe living in poverty by the time the coronavirus pandemic has passed, the report claims.

"The devastating economic fallout of the pandemic is being felt across the globe," said Jose Maria Vera, interim executive director of Oxfam International. "But for poor people in poor countries who are already struggling to survive there are almost no safety nets to stop them falling into poverty. G20 Finance Ministers, the IMF, and World Bank must give developing countries an immediate cash injection to help them bail out poor and vulnerable communities."

The report was released a week before the G20 Finance Ministers, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank are set to meet.

"Unless rich countries are ready to quarantine themselves forever, this crisis will not end without international solidarity."
—Oxfam International

In the report, Oxfam details how people in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East have had their livelihoods threatened and incomes slashed as a result of government lockdowns aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

Micah Olywangu, a taxi driver in Nairobi, Kenya and father of three, has not had a passenger in his cab since the country's lockdown began on March 27. The lockdown is set to last at least until April 17.

"This virus will starve us before it makes us sick," Olywangu told Oxfam. 

Tarawati, a domestic worker in South Delhi, India, told Oxfam her husband has earned no money as a cobbler since the government ordered a lockdown last month. The family is unable to pay for rent or food.

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"For the billions of workers in poor countries who were already scraping by—pulling rickshaws, picking tea, or sewing clothes—there are no safety nets such as sick pay or government assistance," Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam Great Britain, told The Guardian

While many wealthy governments have quickly passed domestic relief packages to assist small businesses, expand unemployment benefits, and bail out corporations, Oxfam writes, "most developing nations lack the financial firepower to follow suit." As a result, about half of the jobs in Africa could be lost as a result of economic shutdowns. 

In countries where many were already living in poverty before the pandemic, the coronavirus could set the fight against poverty back as many as 30 years, Oxfam says.

Canceling Ghana's external debts would allow the government to give direct cash payments of $20 per month to 16 million children, people with disabilities, and elderly people for six months.

In Ethiopia, the government's ability to draw from a global stimulus package would allow it to increase healthcare spending by 45%, potentially allowing the country to prepare for a worsening outbreak as the number of cases there doubles every seven days.

Wealthy countries must also increase their aid to poor governments, Oxfam advises, meeting their commitment of 0.7% GDP. 

"We can only beat this virus through coming together as one," Oxfam writes. "Developing countries must act to protect their people, and demand action from rich nations to support them. Rich country governments must massively upscale their help...mobilizing at least $2.5 trillion dollars to tackle the pandemic and prevent global economic collapse."

Only 0.05% of the $2.2 trillion CARES package passed by the U.S. government last month—$1.1 billion—has been set aside to aid poor countries as they fight the pandemic. 

"That is shocking and shortsighted," the report reads. "Unless rich countries are ready to quarantine themselves forever, this crisis will not end without international solidarity."

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