Two pandemics

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If one could only put together the number of times international relief organisations like the United Nations (UN) have estimated that world poverty would end, or at least be significantly reduced, by this or that decade one might easily have complied the biggest list yet of failed attempts. And now, again when there was hope that global poverty in its most extreme sense would be defeated by the end of this decade, the coronavirus has come so suddenly and effectively stood the entire world on its head. That is why experts are now saying that the world is presently in the unique state of suffering from two unmanageable pandemics at the same time. One, of course, is Covid-19, which has also severely upset economies and put millions upon millions of people out of their jobs.
And the other is poverty, which is compromising not just individual lives but entire societies for generations. Ironically the economic impact of the coronavirus, which has pushed the world into minus-zero growth and therefore a steep international recession, is also significantly adding to the international poverty figure. And government after government now is just forced to sit on its hands as years and decades of poverty alleviation efforts and investments are being reversed. It turns out that the situation is particularly worrisome in Asia, which is home to more than half of the world’s undernourished population. The number of chronically underfed people here was estimated to rise by about a third to almost 330 million by the year 2030; and this was before the pandemic. Since there’s no way of knowing yet just how long the virus is going to evade a vaccine and what more it is going to extract from the global economy, nobody has yet any idea just how much worse the situation is going to get before it gets any better.
Pakistan has had it easier than most countries so far. The government believes this is so because of its dynamic policy of implementing smart lockdowns and allowing the economy to reopen in bits precisely so the poverty numbers did not inflate. But that does not mean that the threat is by any means over. In fact, Pakistan’s poverty problem is so extreme that even the slightest swing back to the bad days could lead to an explosion in the number of under-privileged. The greatest care, therefore, needs to be taken at all times.