On January 27, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported that the extreme poverty rate in the region rose from 13.1% in 2020 to 13.8% in 2021, representing a setback of 27 years, due to the prolonged health and social crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to ECLAC’s annual report on the social panorama of the region, the number of people living in extreme poverty in the region increased from 81 million in 2020 to 86 million in 2021. ECLAC ranked the Latin American and Caribbean region as the world’s most vulnerable to the pandemic.
As the UN agency’s report stated, “despite the economic recovery experienced in 2021, the estimated relative and absolute levels of poverty and extreme poverty have remained above those recorded in 2019, which reflects the ongoing social crisis.” ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, in presenting the report in a press conference online, explained that “the economic recovery of 2021 has not been enough to mitigate the pandemic’s deep social and labor effects, which are closely linked to income and gender inequality, to poverty, to informality and to the vulnerability in which the population lives.”
La tasa de #pobreza extrema en #AméricaLatina aumentará del 13,1% de la población en 2020 al 13,8% en 2021, un retroceso de 27 años, debido a la profundización de la crisis social y sanitaria derivada del #COVID19, señala #CEPAL en informe #PanoramaSocial: https://t.co/Xc484EDRSI pic.twitter.com/oy43SsJU8Y
— CEPAL (@cepal_onu) January 27, 2022
The report also stated that the continent has experienced some of the longest suspensions of in-person classes: around 56 weeks of total or partial suspension on average. ECLAC stressed that this situation has created gaps in cognitive development, learning loss, and the risk of higher dropout rates. The report emphasized that school closures have overburdened women with care tasks. For this reason, the UN commission emphasized that a safe return to in-person classes is urgently needed in 2022.
The report added that the region has the highest number of deaths reported worldwide due to COVID-19: 1,562,845 as of December 31, 2021, representing 28.8% of all the COVID-19-related deaths reported in the world, despite the fact that the region’s population barely accounts for 8.4% of the global population. As of January 26, 2022, 62.3% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population, around 408 million people, had been fully vaccinated. ECLAC called for regional countries to fully vaccinate 70% of their population by mid-2022. To achieve this goal, the UN commission pointed out that it is urgent to strengthen programs for vaccine procurement and mechanisms for regional cooperation and coordination.
Bárcena warned that “lower economic growth will mark the coming years, and if efforts to protect the population’s well-being are not maintained, there will be greater increases in poverty and inequality in the region.” She highlighted that “the pandemic is a historic opportunity to forge a new social contract that would provide protection, certainty and trust” and that “a new social contract must further and strengthen the institutional framework of social protection systems, encouraging them to be universal, comprehensive, sustainable and resilient.”