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COVID sends 4.7m more people into extreme poverty in South-East Asia

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The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 4.7 million more people into extreme poverty in South-East Asia in 2021, reversing gains made in fighting poverty.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a report on Wednesday.

According to the report, before the pandemic, the number of people living in extreme poverty or those living on less than 1.90 dollars a day in the region had been declining, and was down to 14.2 million in 2019 from 21.2 million in 2017.

“Without COVID, those living under extreme poverty would have fallen by another 1.1 million to 13.1 million,” said James Villafuerte, a senior economist at the Manila-based bank and author of the report: “South-East Asia: Rising from the Pandemic”.

But in 2020, the number of people living in extreme poverty rose by 5.4 million due to COVID-19, and in 2021, “another 4.7 million people fell below the extreme poverty threshold compared to the 2020 no COVID-19 poverty baseline,” the report added.

The report said the increase in poverty arose from large unemployment amid the Coronavirus-related lockdowns, with 10.6 million jobs lost in 2020 and another 9.3 million jobs in 2021.

“The pandemic has led to widespread unemployment, worsening inequality and rising poverty levels, especially among women, younger workers, and the elderly in South-East Asia,” ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa said.

In the report, the bank said that in spite of brighter prospects for a recovery, the Omicron variant wave could cut the region’s economic growth by as much as 0.8 percentage points in 2022.

It added that the region’s economic output in 2022 was expected to remain more than 10 per cent below the baseline of a no-COVID scenario.

“ADB will continue to work with policymakers as they seek to rebuild, improve national health systems and streamline domestic regulations to strengthen business competitiveness,” Asakawa said.

“We encourage South-East Asian governments to invest in smart, green infrastructure and adopt technological innovations to reinvigorate economic growth,” he added.

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