A new global report on inequality by Oxfam has exposed how the Covid 19 pandemic has deepened inequality between the rich and majority poor, urging countries like Malawi to create just economies that are more equal and inclusive to end poverty.
The report, The Inequality Virus, indicates that the world, particularly low-income countries, stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began.
On health, for instance, the report details how the pandemic has “exposed the worst effects of poorly equipped, poorly funded public health systems, and the failure of private systems based on how rich one is, when faced with a crisis such as this”.
In Malawi, where schools were closed for five months last year, and are currently on a three-week break to contain the spread of the pandemic, the report is wary that the situation will reverse the gains of the last 20 years of global progress made on girls’ education, resulting in increased poverty and inequality.
As a result of Covid-19, many young girls dropped out of school due to early marriages and pregnancies, companies are shrinking, resulting in job losses and people have little time to do businesses.
Oxfam in Malawi governance programme manager Mathias Burton Kafunda in an interview said government and development partners must invest in public services and ensure everyone has access to decent education, health and social care.
He said: “The coronavirus crisis has swept across a country that was already extremely unequal, a country where nearly two-thirds of humanity is forced to scrape by on less than $1.90 a day. Such inequality means that millions of people were already living on the edge when the pandemic hit.
“Malawi needs to implement social protection programmes for vulnerable citizens, especially daily wage and piece workers. The Urban Cash Transfers programme touted in the previous administration is a must-start right now.”
Kafunda said the global inequality is a product of a flawed and exploitative economic system, which has its roots in neo-liberal economics and the capture of politics by elites.
“It has exploited and exacerbated entrenched systems of inequality and oppression, namely patriarchy and gender inequality. These systems are the root causes of injustice and poverty,” he explained.
Meanwhile, beneficiaries of government’s Covid-19 Urban Cash Intervention are yet to access the cash.
There is, however, hope as European Union (EU) head of development in Malawi Ivo Hoefkens said last week that the delegation with its partners, notably Germany, Ireland and the European Investment Bank, would spend about 60 million euros (about K60 billion) under the Covid-19 response to Malawi after making budget adjustments.
He said: “This entails supporting the government’s programme on social cash transfers, temporarily targeting vulnerable households in urban areas, the government’s programme on school feeding, and recovery support to SMEs [small and medium enterprises] and smallholder farmers.”
President Lazarus Chakwera, in his weekly Sunday address last week said the Ministry of Finance has released K17.52 billion for urgent use in responding to the new wave of infections and hospitalisations, and that part of the money will go towards the Urban Cash Intervention.
In April 2020, former president Peter Mutharika announced that the programme would target 172 000 households in urban areas with K35 000 monthly stipends, with 80 178 households in Lilongwe, 66 744 in Blantyre, 17 258 in Mzuzu and 8 703 in Zomba earmarked to benefit.
The number of beneficiaries has since been revised, and Blantyre will now have 71 517 beneficiaries, Lilongwe 85 913, Mzuzu has 18 493, while Zomba has 9 325 beneficiaries.