People's Stories Livelihood

Falling Living Standards and Food Insecurity during the COVID-19 Crisis
by Innovations for Poverty Action, agencies
Feb. 2021
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp decline in living standards and rising food insecurity in developing countries across the globe, according to a new study by an international team of economists.
The study, published Feb. 5 in the journal Science Advances, provides an in-depth view of the health crisis’s initial socioeconomic effects in low- and middle-income countries, using detailed microdata collected from tens of thousands of households across nine countries. The phone surveys were conducted from April through July 2020 of nationally and sub-nationally representative samples in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Across the board, study participants reported drops in employment, income, and access to markets and services, translating into high levels of food insecurity. Many households reported being unable to meet basic nutritional needs.
“COVID-19 and its economic shock present a stark threat to residents of low- and middle-income countries—where most of the world’s population resides—which lack the social safety nets that exist in rich countries,” said economist Susan Athey, of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. “The evidence we’ve collected show dire economic consequences, including rising food insecurity and falling income, which, if left unchecked, could thrust millions of vulnerable households into poverty.”
Across the 16 surveys, the percentage of respondents reporting losses in income ranged from 8% in Kenya to 86% in Colombia. The median, or midpoint of the range, was a staggering 70%. The percentage reporting loss of employment ranged from 6% in Sierra Leone to 51% in Colombia with a median of 29%.
“Painting a comprehensive picture of the economic impact of this global crisis requires the collection of harmonized data from all over the world,” said Edward Miguel, the Oxfam Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, Director of the Center for Effective Global Action, and a co-author of the study. “Our work is an exciting example of fruitful collaboration among research teams from UC Berkeley, Northwestern, Innovations for Poverty Action, The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics in Kenya, Yale, and many others working in multiple countries simultaneously to improve our understanding of how COVID-19 has affected the living standards of people in low- and middle-income countries on three continents.”
Significant percentages of respondents across the surveys reported being forced to miss meals or reduce portion sizes, including 48% of rural Kenyan households, 69% of landless, agricultural households in Bangladesh, and 87% of rural households in Sierra Leone — the highest level of food insecurity. Poorer households generally reported higher rates of food insecurity, though rates were substantial even among the better off. The steep rise in food insecurity reported among children was particularly alarming given the potentially large negative long-run effects of under-nutrition on outcomes later in life, according to the study.
Survey results from Bangladesh and Nepal suggest that levels of food insecurity were far higher during the pandemic than during the same season in previous years. In most countries, a large share of respondents reported reduced access to markets, consistent with lockdowns and other restrictions on mobility implemented between March and June 2020 to contain the spread of the virus. The amount of social support available to respondents from governments or non-governmental organizations varied widely across the surveys, but the high rates of food insecurity reported suggest that support was insufficient even when present, the researchers state.
The study shows that in addition to increasing food insecurity, the pandemic and accompanying containment measures have undermined several other aspects of household wellbeing. Schools in all sample countries were closed during most or all of the survey period. Respondents also reported reduced access to health services, including prenatal care and vaccinations. Combined, these factors could be particularly damaging to children, in the long run, the researchers note.
“The pandemic’s economic shock in these countries, where so many people depend on casual labor to feed their families, causes deprivations and adverse consequences in the long term, including excess mortality,” said study co-author Ashish Shenoy, of the University of California, Davis. “Our findings underscore the importance of gathering survey data to understand the effects of the crisis and inform effective policy responses. We demonstrate the efficacy of large-scale phone surveys to provide this crucial data.”
Current circumstances may call for social protection programs that prioritize addressing immediate poverty and under-nutrition before tackling deeper underlying causes, the researchers state. They suggest policymakers consider identifying poor households using mobile phones and satellite data and then provide them mobile cash transfers. The researchers also recommend providing support for basic utilities, such as water and electricity, through subsidies and by removing penalties for unpaid bills. They note a fundamental link between containing COVID-19 and providing economic relief as households facing acute shortages may be less willing than others to follow social distancing rules so that they can find opportunities to meet basic needs.
* Researchers on the study represent the following institutions: University of California, Berkeley and the Center for Effective Global Action; The World Bank; Innovations for Poverty Action; University of California, Davis; Northwestern University, Global Poverty Lab and the Kellogg School of Management; Yale University and Y-RISE; University of Basel, Switzerland; Princeton University; Busara Center for Behavioral Economics, Nairobi, Kenya; Stanford University; WZB Berlin Social Science Center; Columbia University; London School of Economics and Political Science, International Growth Centre; Vyxer Remit Kenya, Busia, Kenya; American University; University of Goettingen, Germany; Harvard University; and Wageningen University, Netherlands.

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Commit to transparency in company ownership for the common good
by Transparency International, agencies
24 Feb. 2021
Transparency in company ownership is more than a technical solution to a problem. It is a matter of social justice.
On International Anti-Corruption Day 2020, a group of leading economists, trade unions and civil society organisations tackling issues from human rights, to poverty, to business integrity, came together to call for an end to the abuse of anonymous companies.
Since then, more than 700 signatories from 120 countries have joined the call for the UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption, UNGASS 2021, to commit all countries to set up central, public registers of beneficial ownership.
The UN General Assembly’s decision to hold a Special Session against Corruption in 2021 created a historic opportunity for the international community to address the global crisis of corruption.
The undersigned groups and individuals are united in the conviction that it is of the utmost urgency for the UNGASS 2021 to put an end to the abuse of anonymous companies and other legal vehicles that facilitate cross-border corruption and other crimes.
We are calling on the UNGASS 2021 to commit to making centralised, public beneficial ownership registers a global standard.
Companies that exist only on paper, exploiting our legal systems and concealing their ultimate ownership, are tools for the diversion of critical resources needed to advance sustainable development and collective security.
For decades, as scandal after scandal has demonstrated, anonymous shell companies have been used to divert public funds, channel bribes and conceal ill-gotten gains, as part of corruption and money laundering schemes stretching across borders.
Beneficial ownership information – information on the natural persons who ultimately own, control or benefit from a legal vehicle – enables cross-border enforcement and the tracing of ill-gotten assets for confiscation and return.
In public contracting processes, it helps in the detection of conflicts of interest and corruption. It also makes it easier for businesses to carry out due diligence, helps them know who their partners and customers are and meet reporting obligations.
A central, public register of companies and their ultimate beneficial owners – in addition to information on legal ownership and directors – is the most effective and practical way to record such information and facilitate timely access for all stakeholders.
We have come together to address government leaders currently preparing for UNGASS 2021 with one voice and one clear message:
The “concise and action-oriented political declaration” to be adopted by the General Assembly should commit all countries to establish central, public registers of beneficial ownership as the new global standard. This should be supplemented with efforts to verify the collected information in order to ensure the accuracy and reliability of beneficial ownership data.
Transparency in company ownership is more than a technical solution to a problem. It is a matter of social justice.
Corruption devastates the lives of billions of people around the world, while its deadliness has become all the more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis.
With only ten years left to achieve the 2030 Agenda targets, we need decisive reforms to ensure that the resources needed to pay for critical public services such as schools and hospitals are not simply misappropriated and hidden away in tax havens or property markets abroad.
Centralised, public registers of beneficial ownership as a global standard is precisely that kind of change. The time for action is now.
“All parts of our societies around the world have spoken. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from indigenous peoples’ groups to tax justice advocates, from distinguished diplomats to multi-national companies, we all agree: anonymous companies are vehicles for corruption and other illicit practices that jeopardise the common good. We are asking country representatives preparing for the UNGASS 2021 to heed this call for urgent action,” said Gillian Dell, Head of Conventions Unit at Transparency International.
Numerous investigative reports and scandals have shown that anonymous companies enable and fuel corruption and other financial crimes.
The recent OpenLux investigations highlighted the power of public registers of beneficial ownership for identifying suspicions of money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and other criminal activity.
Maíra Martini, Research and Policy Expert at Transparency International said: “In recent years, many countries have made progress towards ending the abuse of anonymous companies – most recently the United States. But, as our campaign shows, there is an overwhelming consensus that fundamental fixes are necessary across the board.
Criminals and the corrupt must have nowhere to hide their ill-gotten loot. This means universal adoption of public beneficial ownership registers, based on a robust definition of beneficial ownership and accompanied by strong verification processes.”

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