Urban migration and COVID-19: Cities on the frontline of an inclusive response and recovery

By Samer Saliba, Head of Practice, Mayors Migration Council

Photo: Manoej Paateel / Shutterstock

The international community is not doing enough to financially support those who are doing the most for migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people during this global pandemic: city governments. While many cities have the mandate to serve people in vulnerable situations, including migrant and displaced residents, they often do not have enough financial resources to meet the increased demand and need of new arrivals. Lost revenue due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 will further curtail cities’ ability to deliver critical services to their residents this year. Some estimates suggest city governments could see revenue losses of up to 25 percent in 2021, precisely when their spending needs to increase to pay for recovery efforts and continuously growing populations. In a recent survey, 33 municipal finance officials in 22 countries across all continents reported already seeing a 10 percent decrease in their overall revenue and around a five percent increase in expenditure. This “scissors effect” of local government revenue and expenditure will be most felt in cities in developing countries. African cities, for example,  could potentially lose up to up to 65 percent of their revenue in 2021.

While the international community is paying more attention to municipal finance in relation to climate change, sustainable development, and urban development in general, the same cannot be said of urban migration and displacement. Few municipal finance mechanisms focus explicitly on financing for urban migration and displacement, despite the fact that the majority of migrants and displaced people reside in cities. Moreover, donors with low risk tolerance often disregard city governments in low to middle-income countries. In response to the unmet needs of cities, my organisation, the Mayors Migration Council (MMC), recently launched the Global Cities Fund on Inclusive Pandemic Response supporting five cities to implement inclusive response and recovery programmes of their own design.

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For greater vaccine equity, first fix these misconceptions

By Philip Schellekens, Senior Economic Advisor, World Bank Group 

As we start to see the light at the end of the pandemic’s dark tunnel, inequities in the distribution of vaccines across countries are coming under intense scrutiny. Unequal vaccine distribution is not necessarily unfair—after all, some population groups are more vulnerable than others. Yet relative to sensible metrics of need, the current inequality is excessive. Efforts to boost and balance deployment have galvanized under the clarion call for #VaccinEquity, but progress has been slow and marred by bottlenecks.

In addition to the various practical constraints—including financing, logistics, manufacturing, and patent rights—three misconceptions stand in the way: the view that COVID-19 is mainly a “rich-country disease”; a focus on herd immunity that detracts from the pressing goal of protecting the global priority group; and a belief that fixing vaccine hoarding in rich countries will fix vaccine equity on its own.

A global snapshot of vaccine inequity

Competing interests in diplomacy, economics, and global health shape the international distribution of vaccines, but overshadowing them all are universally recognized ethical principles that center on “need” and “priority for the disadvantaged.” Needs encompass a fuzzy spectrum. They include the burden of morbidity (e.g., long COVID), broader health effects (e.g., undermanaged illnesses), and wider socioeconomic effects (e.g., food security and poverty). But as long as this pandemic rages on, needs will first and foremost be defined by the vulnerability to premature death—which not only is devastating but also irreversible and hence hard to compensate for.

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From COVID-19 to “neglected diseases”: Time to deliver on pharmaceutical innovation

By Werner Raza, ÖFSE – Austrian Foundation for Development Research

The pharmaceutical innovation system’s disregard of “neglected diseases” primarily affecting countries in the Global South should no longer be tolerated. A substantial reform is necessary.

Triggered by SARS-COV-2, Covid-19 belongs to the group of new infectious diseases which until now had mainly occurred in emerging and developing countries. Since the first outbreak of a SARS epidemic in 2002, millions of people have been affected by the family of coronaviruses. But it took a global pandemic with serious impacts on OECD countries’ societies and economic systems, for such a disease to receive the health policy attention that the Global South has been sorely lacking.

The share of pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) funds for diseases primarily affecting the Global South is vanishingly small. This is true for the public sector, but even more so for the pharmaceutical industry. Accordingly, they have become referred to as “neglected diseases”.

Little research and slow progress

Neglected diseases have been a major global health policy issue for decades. In the Global South, they cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of illnesses every year. Often with serious long-term health consequences. Depending on the definition, neglected diseases comprise several dozen diseases, sometimes including the so-called “big three”, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. But they also include “neglected tropical diseases” as defined by the WHO, such as Chagas, dengue fever and leishmaniasis, as well as other poverty-related diseases.   

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Gender-based violence: the ‘pandemic within a pandemic’ with devastating human and economic consequences

By Flavia Bustreo, Global leader for health & rights of women, children, adolescents & elderly & Former Assistant Director-General at WHO, Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO and Felicia Knaul, Director, Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences at the Miller School of Medicine

Last year, in early February, we joined global leaders and Ministers from a number of countries at a landmark conference organised by the OECD on ending violence against women. The first of its kind, it reflected the rising recognition among OECD countries that violence against women is both a grave violation of human rights as well as an economic sinkhole. The COVID-19 crisis has magnified the existing ‘pandemic within a pandemic’ of violence, with devastating consequences for individuals, and for our societies and economies at large.

Even in non-pandemic times, the economic impact of gender-based violence is staggering and has traditionally been vastly underestimated. Considering only direct costs, gender-based violence reduces global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2% per year, equivalent to an annual loss of more than US$1.6 trillion. In some countries, the annual costs of gender-based violence have been estimated at more than 3.5% of GDP, nearly half of what OECD countries spend on average on all healthcare. These figures, however, are but the tip of the iceberg, accounting only for direct medical costs and immediate productivity losses. A broader model – taking account of the lost capabilities of survivors and caregivers, and how these traumas and hardships are transmitted across generations – would reveal a far higher figure of the cost of inaction.

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How West Africa’s cashew companies have weathered the COVID-19 crisis

By Violeta Gonzalez, Head of Partnerships, Outreach and Resource Mobilisation, Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF)

April is usually cashew marketing season across West Africa – a lively affair where traders tout bags of recently harvested raw nuts to buyers, most of whom have flown in from Vietnam and India. But 2020 was not a usual year. COVID-19 containment measures meant closures – of international borders, stopping major buyers travelling to West Africa – as well as domestic markets, leading to violent clashes between police and traders. It goes without saying that the impact of these border and market closures came at a great cost to the livelihoods of many West African cashew farmers, producers, and traders. Small businesses faced plummeting revenues or were at the brink of bankruptcy. Instead of offering support, local banks and financial institutions supporting West African cashew producers slashed lending during the pandemic.

Agriculture is a risky business at the best of times – good prices depend on good yields, which depend on good weather. While speciality crops like cashews can generate high returns, the risk of capital loss is also high, meaning many banks are hesitant to provide the capital that’s needed for small businesses in West Africa’s cashew sector to flourish. The cashew businesses that have weathered the economic storm created by COVID-19 have something in common – the long-term backing of impact investors who not only provide capital and technical assistance, but who also have a deep understanding of the challenges of the agricultural sector.

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Inégalités et migrations internationales : garantir des avantages pour tous dans l’après-pandémie

Par Jason Gagnon, Économiste du développement, Centre de développement de l’OCDE

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, mai 2020 : Les travailleurs migrants indiens quittent la ville en raison du confinment. Photo: Mukesh Kumar Jwala / Shutterstock

Read this blog in English

La pandémie de COVID-19 a bouleversé les migrations internationales. Selon les Nations Unies, on comptait 272 millions de migrants internationaux dans le monde en 2019, soit 3.5 % de la population mondiale, ce qui reflétait une augmentation constante au fil des ans. Cependant, depuis le début de la crise, les migrations ont considérablement diminué. En raison des restrictions, l’accueil d’étrangers dans les pays de l’OCDE a chuté de 46 %. Dans les pays du Conseil de coopération du Golfe (CCG), et dans de nombreuses autres régions du monde, les tendances vont dans le même sens. Et la baisse générale des flux migratoires devrait se poursuivre en 2021.

Les répercussions disproportionnées de la crise du COVID-19 sur les migrants sont innombrables. La pandémie a également montré à quel point de nombreux pays dépendent fortement des migrants pour faire fonctionner leur économie, assurer leur sécurité alimentaire  et combler leur déficit de compétences. Sans parler des biens culturels immatériels dont bénéficient les sociétés dans tous les domaines, que ce soit en termes d’alimentation, d’événements culturels et d’art. Mais quel sera l’impact du COVID-19 sur l’avenir des migrations internationales ?

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The sectoral and gendered impacts of COVID-19 in Africa

By Anzetse Were, Senior Economist FSD Kenya

Africa, like much of the world, is still in the throes of the COVID pandemic and related economic fallout. The pandemic has cost the continent about USD 69 billion per month and economic growth is projected to contract by 2.6% in 2020. This downturn is set to cost Africa at least $115 billion in output losses in 2020 with GDP per capita growth expected to contract by nearly 6.0 %. Additionally, the pandemic may push 40 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 across the continent, eroding at least five years of progress in fighting poverty.

Diverse sectoral impact

The sectoral impact of COVID-19 has been and will likely continue to be varied. Some sectors such as tourism, aviation and crude oil exports have been disproportionately hit in Africa, while COVID-19 is spurring certain types of digital technologies (such as mobile payments in Kenya and Rwanda), and food production in some countries has been resilient. This points to four main COVID impact-recovery sectoral performance paths (the chart is illustrative):

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COVID-19, an opportunity to build back better for women migrant workers

By Dr. Jean D’Cunha, Senior Global Advisor on International Migration, UN Women

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the systemic inequalities in our societal fabric and ethic that largely function off intersecting forms of discrimination, especially for women migrant workers. Women and girls constitute nearly half of the 272 million international migrants, and a large number of internal migrants. 8.5 million of the 11.8 million overseas migrant domestic workers and a majority of the 56 million local domestic workers worldwide are women. Women, comprise 70 percent of the global health workforce at the frontlines of response, many of whom are migrants.

Moreover, women’s contribution to all types of care, including unpaid care, amounts to $11 trillion globally (9 percent of global GDP). Protecting women and migrant women workers’ rights and supporting their full potential is critical to economic recovery. Despite this, economic packages invest inadequately in migrant women’s priorities, even though evidence also shows that the socio-economic impacts of the crisis are worse for women.

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COVID-19 and the Kafala system: protecting African female migrant workers in Gulf countries

By Mona Ahmed, Junior Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected women and men differently depending on the sector they work in, their employment situation and their access to labour and social protection measures. Domestic and care work, traditionally female-dominated, form one of the most marginalised, undervalued and least protected employment sectors. It therefore comes as no surprise that the current crisis has not reinvented the wheel, but rather amplified persistent vulnerabilities faced by female migrant workers.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are home to the world’s largest number of international labour migrants. According to a study carried out by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 12% of the 28.1 million migrant workers in GCC countries in 2017 were African, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait hosting almost 90 percent. Historically a destination for South and Southeast Asian workers, the growing demand in domestic labour has attracted a considerable number of East and West African women, mostly from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. Despite their economic contribution in both origin and destination countries, the duties of child and elderly care, cleaning and food preparation are culturally devalued and receive limited social recognition.  

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Protecting migrant workers in the Gulf: don’t build back better over a poor foundation

By Vani Saraswathi, Editor-at-Large and Director of Projects, Migrant-Rights.Org

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states need to completely revamp past policies, and not merely attempt to bridge gaps or provide a salve to deep wounds.

Construction workers in Dubai, UAE. Photo: LongJon / Shutterstock

As of February 2020, millions of migrants –– primarily from South and Southeast Asia and increasingly from East African countries –– were holding up Gulf economies, working in sectors and for wages unappealing to the more affluent citizens. In countries with per capita GDP of US$62,000 or more, minimum wages ranged as low as US$200 per month.

Men were packed into portacabins and decrepit buildings, six to a room if lucky, hidden behind screens of dust and grime, away from the smart buildings they built and shiny glasses they cleaned. The women were trapped 24/7 in homes that are their workplaces, every movement monitored. It is accepted and normalised without question that these men and women will leave behind their families in the hopes of building a better future for themselves. That they may live all their productive life in a strange country, excluded from social security benefits and denied all rights of belonging, is seen as a small price to pay for the supposed fiscal benefits. The fact that the price is too steep is rarely discussed.

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