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Pandemic pushed LatAm extreme poverty to 20-year high, says UN

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People line up to withdraw cash in Venezuela./AFP
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Mar 05, 2021 - 08:08 AM

SANTIAGO, CHILE — Extreme poverty in Latin America has reached its worst level in 20 years due to the coronavirus pandemic, a report by the UN said on Thursday.

Poverty is also at its highest level in 12 years after the number of poor people in the region rose by 22 million in 2020 to 209 million.

The UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said the results called “for a new welfare state.”

“The indices of inequality in the region worsened along with employment and labor participation rates, among women above all, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and despite the emergency social protection measures that countries have adopted to halt this phenomenon,” said ECLAC.

Without those measures the figures would have been much worse, ECLAC said.

The body predicts that the region of around 650 million people will experience a 7.7 percent drop in GDP in 2020.

“It is estimated that in 2020 the extreme poverty rate was 12.5 percent while the poverty rate affected 33.7 percent of the population,” ECLAC said.

The number of people living in extreme poverty rose by eight million to 78 million.

The report said that poverty is greater in rural areas, among children and adolescents, indigenous and Afro-descendent people, and in the population with lower educational levels.

“The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the region’s major structural gaps and currently, we are living in a time of heightened uncertainty in which neither the way out of the crisis nor the speed of that process is yet known,” said ECLAC executive secretary Alicia Barcena in presenting the body’s report in Chile.

“There is no doubt that the costs of inequality have become unsustainable and that it is necessary to build back with equality and sustainability, aiming to create a true welfare state, a task long postponed in the region.”

The report said the coronavirus pandemic had mostly affected lower and lower-middle income families while unemployment ended 2020 at 10.7 percent, an increase of 2.6 percent on 2019.

Latin America and the Caribbean has suffered 20 million coronavirus cases and 635,000 deaths.

Although it accounts for just 8.4 percent of the world’s population, it has registered 27.8 percent of Covid-19 deaths.

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