Extreme poverty rises; a generation sees a future slip away
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — (wacotrib)–As a domestic worker, Amsale Hailemariam knew well the luxury villas that had grown up around her simple shelter of raw metal and plastic sheeting. In them, she saw how her country, Ethiopia, had transformed.
“Oh God, a day will come when my life will be changed, too,” she thought. The key lay in her daughter, months from a career in public health. Then a virus mentioned in none of her textbooks arrived, and dreams began to fade.
Decades of progress in one of modern history’s greatest achievements, the fight against extreme poverty, are in danger of slipping away because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world could see its first increase in extreme poverty in 22 years after whittling it down to 10% of the population, further sharpening inequalities.
“We are living in a state where we are above the dead and below the living,” Amsale said, near tears. “This is not life.”
Up to 100 million more people globally could fall into the bitter existence of living on just $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. That’s “well below any reasonable conception of a life with dignity,” the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty wrote this year. It comes on top of the 736 million people already there, half in just five countries: Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Congo and Bangladesh.
This story was produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Even China, Indonesia and South Africa are expected to have more than 1 million people each fall into extreme poverty, the World Bank says.
Most of those newly at risk are in sub-Saharan Africa, which had some of the world’s fastest growing economies in recent years. The World Bank shared with the AP the earliest data out of Ethiopia as it takes a global measure of the pandemic’s effects. Similar efforts are under way in more than 100 countries.
Ethiopia’s government looked to emulate China’s astonishing lifting of more than 800 million people from poverty. Some people embraced new manufacturing jobs. Others joined the growing sectors of hospitality, services and aviation, hoping to join Africa’s expanding middle class.
Addis Ababa, already Africa’s diplomatic capital, became its aviation hub. Under the country’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, the city has seen a wave of new construction. And a source of national pride is a massive dam near completion on the Nile, a bid to pull millions more from poverty.
Now the country, along with Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, is expected to see half of sub-Saharan Africa’s new extreme poor.
Some ask him: What will we do now? “I will have to struggle,” one head of a household said.
The first round of calls to 3,200 households found a 61% drop in employment, with many job losses in sectors tied to growth: construction, hospitality, restaurants, big hotels. The second round saw a partial rebound, but that doesn’t mean people resumed the same stable jobs.
“Small shocks in income can have devastating effects,” World Bank senior economist Christina Wieser said.
Some 2.5 million jobs are threatened, he said, roughly the same number of Ethiopians who enter the workforce every year.
For a young woman like Bethlehem, the future seems in shambles. She now shelters with her mother just steps away from an overflowing public toilet. The neighbors who once welcomed Amsale into their homes to cook and clean now turn her away, fearing the virus.