In a wide range of debates on poverty, issues like headcount poverty rate and GDP growth are generally discussed. However, policymakers should address issues regarding multidimensional poverty and the impact of poverty on human capital.
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, Professor of Economics at the University of Dhaka and Research Director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (Sanem), was speaking on the issue at the concluding session of a three-day conference, entitled "Covid-19 and Development Challenges," organised by Sanem.
"Covid-19 has not only affected the short time poverty scenario but can have long-time implications on education and human development," she added.
At the session, Dr Ricardo Nogales Carvajal, research officer at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, presented a paper, "On the track or not? Projecting the multidimensional poverty index".
Analysing 75 countries, he said 47 countries are on track to halve multidimensional poverty, a target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, while another 18 countries are off track. Another 10 countries need extra effort to meet the goals.
He added that 50% of primary school-going children have not gone back to school since the pandemic started. Besides, about 130 million people in 55 countries are at high risk of food insecurity.
Any further deprivations on nutrition because of Covid-19 may set poverty levels back by 5.2 years and it will be 9.1 years for deprivation in both nutrition and education. The deprivation could cause an additional 490 million people to fall into multidimensional poverty, revealed the paper.
Experts at the discussion expressed their fears that a premature opening up of economic activities could have the adverse impact of Covid-19 on economies linger and have consequences for human capital issues like health and education.
They recommended that global leaders maintain very strict lockdowns until a Covid-19 vaccine arrives.
Dr S R Osmani, Professor of Development Economics, University of Ulster, UK, who chaired the session on "Poverty and Human Development", said, the pandemic is having a very serious effect all over the world on human capital, hunger, morbidity, mortality, continuing education and all aspects of human capital.
Enough is not being done by governments in developing countries and even in developed countries in response to the problem of the negative effects on human capital.
Criticizing global political leaders, he said, "They are trying to find a cheap way to avoid the negative impact on income, livelihoods and human capital. The cheap way is opening up the economy quickly, removing restrictions, lockdowns and physical distancing."
He also said political leaders wish a quick opening, hoping that workers will return to work and negative impacts to minimise, but it could all have the pandemic and its negative impacts linger.
Every country needs strict lockdowns but the leaders are not doing it through considering the sufferings of poor people with no jobs and income, he added.
Siddha Raj Bhatta, deputy director, Research Department, Central Bank of Nepal, presented the second paper of the session, entitled "Impact of Covid-19 on remittance---poverty dynamics of Nepal".
He said Nepal holds fourth position in terms of remittances as a percentage of GDP and has the 21st position in remittance amount.
International remittance flows in Nepal have surged during the last one and half decade from 10.7% of GDP in 2000-01 to almost to 30% in 2015-16. However, Covid-19 could reduce remittances by 14-40% in 2020 compared to the previous years.
As about 3/5 of Nepali households receive remittances and about 4/5 of the remittances are used for consumption, remittance-receiving households are highly vulnerable to poverty traps.
A paper, entitled "Covid-19 lockdown measures and social protection in Nigeria", was presented by Eleanya Nduka, Lecturer in Economics at the University of Nigeria. He provided details about the impact of Covid-19 on the economy in his country and the responses of the government to combat the losses.
He noted that as oil accounts for 10% of GDP and 86% of export revenue of Nigeria, the country faces a fiscal crisis as oil prices have plummeted.
About 99.6% of people in the country have not received any form of palliatives like money, food items, and medicines from the government since restrictions on movement were imposed.
Dr Indrajit Bairagya, Assistant Professor, Centre for Human Resource Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, India, presented a paper, "Effects of Covid-19 on primary education in India: Does it divide the government and private schools more sharply?"
He said about 320 million students have been affected by the nationwide closure of schools in March. About 10 million of them are in the pre-primary level and more than 143 million are in primary classes. As the lockdown period increases, students' academic skills are likely to be affected negatively.
Sanem Executive Director and Dhaka University Prof Dr Selim Raihan was the convener of the conference.
Professor Francois Bourguignon, former Chief Economist of the World Bank and Chair Emeritus, Paris School of Economics, Professor Wahiduddin Mahmud, eminent economist, Bangladesh and Professor Kunal Sen, Director, UNU-WIDER, Helsinki, were panellists at the closing session of the conference.