UN finds soaring poverty in virus-hit Latin America

SANTIAGO (AP) — More than 20 million people were pushed into poverty during pandemic-plagued 2020 across Latin America and the Caribbean, the United Nations (UN) economic agency for the region reported on Thursday.

Poverty as a whole rose to afflict a total of 208 million people — 33.7 per cent from 30.5 per cent of the population — in a year when the overall gross domestic product collapsed by 7.7 per cent.

Extreme poverty — those without the resources to cover basic food requirements — rose to encompass 78 million people, 12.5 per cent of the region’s population, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. That’s the highest percentage in 20 years.

Poverty as a whole rose to afflict a total of 208 million people — 33.7 per cent from 30.5 per cent of the population — in a year when the overall gross domestic product collapsed by 7.7 per cent. The report said the situation would have been worse without household subsidy programmes enacted by many governments to cushion the blow for some 84 million households.

The report presented online by agency director Alicia Bárcena also found worsening rates of inequality and unemployment across a region that accounts for just 8.4 per cent of the world’s population but nearly 28 per cent of global deaths from COVID-19.

A cat stretches in front of a bakery at La Vega market in Santiago. PHOTO: AP

The report said more than 507,000 people died of COVID-19 last year across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report said that deteriorating economic, health and education conditions for households “could forge a vicious cycle of poverty and bad health conditions for wide sectors of the population”.

Bárcena said levels of inequality have reached “unsustainable” levels and she called for creation of “a true welfare state, a task long postponed in the region”.

Unemployment rose 2.6 percentage points to 10.7 by the end of the year, with the greatest losses among women, informal workers, youths and migrants.

More than 165 million students were affected by school closures, even if some — especially those with economic means — were able to turn to remote learning systems.

Bárcena also noted “great inequality in access to vaccines” needed to escape from the problem.