COVID-19: Millions more Asians in poverty, while billionaires become richer | Inquirer Opinion

COVID-19: Millions more Asians in poverty, while billionaires become richer

/ 04:01 AM January 25, 2022

Across Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic devastated lives and livelihoods, taking away 147 million jobs and pushing 148 million Asians into poverty but while most Asians are worse off, the region’s billionaires grew their wealth by $1.46 trillion, leading to a staggering rise in inequality.

According to an Oxfam report, Asia’s richest one percent now own more wealth than the poorest 90 percent and the impact of COVID-19 combined with existing inequality has set back equitable development in the region by decades. Existing economic policies are rigged in the favor of the wealthy, allowing them to accumulate incredible amounts of wealth while narrowing the chances of the poorest to catch up.

Vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities, and migrant workers were worst affected as their incomes shrunk and their access to essential services was reduced. School closures have worsened the education divide with an estimated 10.45 million children dropping out of school and university forever, with far-reaching consequences for their life chances.

In countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, 46-64 percent of households were unable to receive medical attention due to lack of funds. Women make up over 70 percent of health care workers in Asia but over 60 percent struggled to receive adequate health care during the pandemic Women also experienced an increase in their care-work responsibilities, suffered greater levels of domestic, and gender-based violence, while rates of teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions rose.


Meanwhile, Asia’s richest were shielded from the impact of the pandemic and many even thrived. The number of billionaires in the region grew from 803 in March 2020 to 1087 in November 2021 and billionaires were able to grow their wealth by 74 percent. Some wealthy Asians even profiteered directly from the pandemic, and there are 20 new Asian billionaires whose fortunes came from equipment, pharmaceuticals, and services needed for the pandemic response.

Oxfam’s report makes recommendations to address Asia’s growing inequality through progressive policy actions by governments that prevent millions of poor Asians from falling through the cracks. According to the report a wealth tax of 2 to 5 percent on Asia Pacific’s multi-millionaires and billionaires, could raise an additional $776.5 billion every year. That would be enough to increase public spending on health in the region by 60 percent and can prevent unnecessary and premature deaths in the future or enhance education opportunities to bridge the gap opportunity.

As our Oxfam Interim Asia regional director Dieneke van der Wijk said: “The pandemic has shown the need for better social protection and stronger public health systems. Governments across the region must scale up existing programs and introduce policies designed to reduce health and economic inequalities … We are at a turning point in history where we have an opportunity to rebuild a better economic and social system that does not allow a few to accumulate wealth at the expense of millions. Future policies must ensure rights, freedoms, and opportunities for women, girls, and vulnerable people and protect the planet that we live on.”

Oxfam International, [email protected]

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TAGS: COVID-19, Poverty

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