SEATTLE, Washington — Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world have faced economic, political and health care crises that have threatened the stability of their societies. In Mali, COVID-19 pushed another 900,000 people into poverty and the national debt accelerated. These dire effects of the pandemic contribute to the low-income country’s high poverty rates, which stood at 42.3% in 2019. While official poverty rates are currently around 47%, the World Food Program estimates that about 78.1% of people in Mali are affected by poverty. . Here are key developments of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali.
For individuals and businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in job losses and disappearing customers. The combined effect of declining revenues and limited international trade resulted in 83% of companies reporting revenue losses and about 12% shutting down completely.
The shrinking market added to the estimated 900,000 more people falling into poverty due to COVID-19. In late March 2020, Mali imposed a curfew from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., causing many who worked at night to lose their jobs. While these night shops, such as bars, restaurants and some shops, no longer had any income. Closed borders and increasing poverty caused household and business necessities to rise in price, exacerbating the effects of poverty.
Mali’s high poverty rates exacerbate the effects of food insecurity, with around 4.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. With little food available for families, food insecurity leads to stunted growth in 30.4% of children under the age of five. The annual loss of economic productivity in Mali is $145 million due to malnutrition.
The majority of the population in Mali’s border regions, near Burkina Faso and Niger, are experiencing severe food insecurity due to the effects of the pandemic. The interruptions in trade and travel during closed border periods prevented much-needed support to these communities in Mali.
In addition to pressing food security concerns, the heavy farming economy suffered a downturn in agriculture during COVID-19, further limiting access to available food. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali is evident in the struggle to provide food to families across the country, especially for female-led families who face food insecurity twice as often as male-led families.
Due to a lack of income and widespread school closures, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali reduced access to education for all students, especially girls in rural areas. Without family income, children will drop out of school to cut costs and support their parents, and will likely never go back to school.
Girls’ chances of reintegrating into school are lower as societal and family influences expose them to early marriages and pregnancies during the pandemic. Fortunately, UNICEF is supporting community-based interventions in Mali that educate families about the harms of child marriage and early pregnancy so that girls can complete their education.
Since 2012, political instability in Mali has prevented sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. Constant government changes and conflict between military and rebel groups, such as a military coup in August 2020 that ousted a sitting president, make it difficult to form a united response to a deadly pandemic.
Attempts to make peace have failed to end the conflict, leading to violent clashes that disrupted access to impoverished regions or limited help from UN peacekeepers. The ongoing struggle of military coups and armed resistance against the government exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali.
United Nations response
As the nation faced social and political unrest, regulations such as curfews came into effect to minimize the impact of the pandemic. At the same time, the United Nations helped the government spread awareness and information about COVID-19. Through the United Nations Volunteers Program (UNV), 60 community volunteers traveled to two of Mali’s largest cities, Bamako and Mopti, to provide services to the region.
The primary goal of the volunteers was to raise awareness in local communities and provide information about the health crisis, eradicating stigma, misinformation and denial about the disease. Between May and December 2020, the UNV reached approximately 375,000 people, including more than 250,000 women and displaced persons. Through their work, the United Nations has helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 and supported the government in educating the public about the pandemic.
Despite these positive efforts, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali remains significant, especially in the current socio-political conditions. More programs than the UNV are needed to reduce high poverty rates or food insecurity, and the sooner Mali can return to standard functionality, the better.
Overall, the number of people vaccinated in Mali is at 1.5% due to the lack of available vaccines, reflecting the urgent need for international aid. Support from major vaccine makers is needed to take vaccine-free countries out of this pandemic and into a system in which businesses and the workforce can recover the economy.
– Mikey Redding