The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is devastating for poor households with limited resources and revenues to sustain them during home confinement and lockdown. Those with children are particularly affected. In Guyana, many survive from pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and the minimum wage cannot support the cost of living. The result is that low-income families are increasingly vulnerable to slipping below the poverty threshold.
As some sectors grapple with a decline in economic activity, some businesses have opted to send home workers without financial compensation. Others have slashed salaries without reducing work time. Wage workers are also among the most exposed to the health crisis as they depend on daily, weekly or fortnightly income. Though the ripple effect of the pandemic transcends all sectors of the economy, all are not equally affected.
According to recent projections from ECLAC, the unemployment rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to increase by 3.4 per cent, leaving more than 37 million people jobless. This is also linked to the fact that small and medium businesses are less immune to the impact of COVID-19. The organisation also predicts an increase in poverty by 4.4% in 2020, increasing the number of people in poverty by 29 million. Extreme poverty is foreseen to increase by 16 million in the region. While Guyana is expected to benefit from an increase in GDP now that it has become an oil-producing nation, it is not clear how this will mitigate the rise in poverty levels for poor households in the immediate and medium-term.
Currently, the distribution of relief hampers by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) has been interrupted by the government in favour of more long-term solutions. But though there are talks of a stimulus package to help Guyanese cope with the health crisis, the government has yet to take action.
Meanwhile, low-income households, especially those with children at home, have been struggling to cope with reduced resources and opportunities. Men are confronted with the strain of financial difficulties and health risk. Women and children are particularly affected, and constitute the majority who reach out to GEPAN for support with food items. Unemployment as well as limited access to social services, information and education have increased the vulnerability of women and children not only to poverty and illness but also to domestic and family violence. Victims of domestic and family violence in confinement now risk being fully exposed to isolation and abuse. This is corroborated by reports in the local news which suggest a surge in DV.
How you can help
Eradicating the pandemic necessitates consolidated efforts from all sectors and most importantly, from all individuals. It also requires a humane approach as opposed to the typical doomsday attitude that has seen scores of people panic-buying and hoarding supplies, at the detriment of others with limited means. The private sector has an equally vital role to play in encouraging better social responsibility. Of course, all actions must go hand in hand with a proactive and swift government response.
Here at GEPAN, we’re focused on how the individual can help to preserve the safety of community members by ensuring that households have what they need to cope with the confinement measures. This is why we provide solidarity hampers to families who reach out to us for help. To accomplish this, we depend on the generosity of private donors to replenish our foodbank with non-perishable goods.
We are also available to provide support to victims of family violence through our network of partners.