Survey shows COVID pandemic has severely affected Latin America, Caribbean

World Bank VP for Latin America and Caribbean, Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, described as “silent crisis” the pandemic's impact on education
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(Caribbean Media Corporation) – Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) countries have suffered significantly as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with at least 50 per cent of households not being able to recover the income levels before the pandemic that has also seriously affected, education, health among other sectors.

A survey released by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on Monday analysed the current state of the region in six crucial areas, namely labour markets, income and food security, education, gender, health and digital and finance.

The “Phase 2 of the 2021 LAC High-Frequency Phone Survey”  described as “An uneven Recovery: taking the pulse of the Latin America and Caribbean following the pandemic,” also included Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Guyana.

Overall, the survey found that in LAC, while the employment situation had been showing signs of recovery over the past two years of the pandemic, the jobs were mainly generated by micro companies and those engaged in self-employment.

“There has been a huge employment as a consequence and one in every four persons across the region has not been to get their jobs back,” said Luis Felipe López-Calva, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP, adding that Colombia, Panama, Honduras and Haiti had been the most severely affected countries in the LAC.

He said women more than men had been more affected by the situation, particularly mothers of very small children and people “in vulnerable ages …and those with less levels of schooling.

“Regionwise, there is still a long way to recover….(and) the quality of employment has degraded across the region in all countries… it has deteriorated significantly”.

He said that the survey had shown that the formal employment “has diminished almost by five per cent region wide (and) …we see people had to resort to self-employment.

According to the data, 50 per cent of households have not been able to recover income levels before the pandemic whether through the labour market or even remittances and emergency transfers, leading to a situation of food security in the region.

The data showed that all countries had recorded a drop in access to food and that the countries that were already facing poverty levels before the pandemic “are the ones suffering the most”.

In the field of education, while countries such as Guyana, Belize had recorded 12 percentage points higher before the pandemic, other countries were now recording as high as 22 per cent of children not being able to attend classes.

“This is one of the big challenges of the pandemic,” said the panellists during a webinar on Monday when the results of the survey was released, with the data showing that virtual learning in some countries was so bad due to the lack of access to the internet, available technology and even children not wanting to participate in the new environment.

World Bank Vice President for Latin America and Caribbean, Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, described as “silent crisis” the events brought about by the pandemic in the field of education especially for primary and secondary education.

“Schools have been mostly closed. In some countries they have not re-opened yet, at least not totally, and I think that is something that we said is that the alternatives that have been used are far from ideal.

“I think some countries have used education through the internet, some countries have used more traditional mechanisms such as education through TV and the radio, but the effectiveness of these alternatives is not very positive  …and we are worried that there is not a system good enough so that most students can truly have an effective educational experience.

“The World Bank officials said “this is going to leave a very deep scar on this generation and we have to think about how countries can deal with what they have lost in terms of two years of learning.

‘Two years of silent crisis in education,” he added.

The study also found that while vaccination had become available in many LAC countries and would in the future contribute to students returning to their classrooms. In places like Haiti, vaccination is non-existent.

Also it was discovered that in the LAC one-fifth of unvaccinated people do not want to be vaccinated and that situation could be found in rural areas, the elderly and people who just do not believe in vaccines.

The survey found that the pandemic had allowed for an increase in digital and financing with technology making a leap as much as 50 per cent, many homes were now using digital platforms to carry out their tasks such as banking and using mobile wallets.

Jaramillo told the webinar that going forward, LAC must deal with the digital gap, adding “the pandemic has made it clear that this is extremely serious and this has deepen social gaps.

“I think this is also responsible for some of the…inequalities because those who had resources could work from home or go to school through the internet. However those who did not have access through the internet…have been very limited in their possibilities.

“I think the figures we have gained through the survey clearly show this and I think this is an urgent investment and it is not very costly. We need to give access to the internet to the 20 per cent of the poorest population. This is actually not a huge investment for most countries and it is urgent,” Jaramillo added.

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