FROM Kenya to Argentina, untold millions who were already struggling to get by on the economic margins have had their lives made even harder by pandemic lockdowns, layoffs and the loss of a chance to earn from a hard day’s work. More than four out of five people in the global labour force of 3.3 billion have been hit by full or partial workplace closures, according to the International Labour Organisation, which says 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.”
The toll for families is hunger and poverty that are either new-found or even more grinding than before. Hunkering down at home to ride out the crisis isn’t an option for many, because securing the next meal means hustling to find a way to sell, clean, drive or otherwise work, despite the risk.
How the world’s poor get through this pandemic will help determine how quickly the global economy recovers and how much aid is needed to keep countries afloat.
In Kenya, Judith Andeka has seen tough times before.
The 33-year-old mother of five lost her husband two years ago and was left to make ends meet on just $2.50 to $4 a day from washing clothes in Nairobi’s Kibera, one of the world’s biggest slums. But things were never as tough as they are now. Neighbours aren’t going to work because of restrictions on movement, so they can’t afford her services. Even if they could, they don’t want her handling their laundry due to virus concerns.
“I haven’t had a good day for the last two weeks,” Andeka said. She’s been forced to send all five kids to live with relatives who are slightly better off: “I had no choice, because how do you tell a 2-year-old you have no food to give them?” In Argentina, Rosemary Páez Carabajal pushed a coffee cart on the streets of Argentina’s capital, until the lockdown forced her to stop.
The coronavirus came at a time of already painful recession in Argentina, with more than a third of its 44 million residents in poverty, according to figures from late 2019.
Páez Carabajal, her blacksmith husband who’s also out of work and their two children rent a single room in a two-story brick building for the equivalent of $119 a month.
Now the cart sits idle in the hall, and the home is stacked with textbooks as the couple try to home-school their lone school-age child, a 7-year-old son.
They are dipping into meagre savings and relying on a one-time Government aid voucher worth about $150. For now, their landlord is not collecting rent.
Páez Carabajal worries her small business may not survive even after restrictions are eased.
“People are going to have doubts about buying because the disease is transmitted by grabbing things,” she said.
The coronavirus came at a time of already painful recession in Argentina, with more than a third of its 44 million residents in poverty, according to figures from late 2019. Some 3 million have requested food aid in recent weeks, adding to the 8 million getting such assistance before the pandemic.
In Cairo, the sprawling and bustling metropolis of some 20 million people, the “ahwa,” or coffee shop, was among the first casualties of a shutdown order for many Egyptian businesses.
No longer were they allowed to offer “sheesha,” the hookah waterpipe so popular in the Middle East. Before long they were closed altogether.
That cost Hany Hassan his job. He hadn’t been making much — $5 a day — but it was enough to feed his family.
“We are financially ruined,” said the 40-year-old father of four. Unable to find work in a relatively pricey Cairo he could no longer afford, he moved back to family in his hometown of Mallawi, about 190 miles (300 kilometres) to the south.
But his chances for work there are even dimmer. Chronic back pain means he can’t do the manual labour jobs many people work in the provinces.
Jobless for over a month, he goes out daily looking for work but comes back empty-handed every night. To keep afloat, he’s borrowed money.
Before the pandemic, one in three Egyptians or roughly 33 million people were living on about $1.45 per day, and around 6% were in extreme poverty, or living on less than a dollar a day, according to the country’s official statistics agency.
The Government has created an emergency fund for vulnerable people, offering the equivalent of around $32 a month.