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COVID-19: Supporting enterprises, jobs and incomes

Helping the “double casualties” of COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 in fragile states riven by conflict and political insecurity, is turning millions of vulnerable people into double casualties of the pandemic.

Comment | 04 May 2020
Mito Tsukamoto, ILO Development and Investment Branch
COVID-19 is now spreading rapidly through least developed countries (LDCs). Places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen were already fragile from armed conflict and political insecurity, as well as coping with large populations of working poor, vulnerable people, the unemployed and informal sector workers. They also had millions of others, refugees or migrants, living in cramped camps or detention centres while trying to cope with tragedy and trauma.

The arrival of COVID-19 into these already precarious humanitarian situations threatens to become a final straw – turning millions into double casualties.

LDCs generally have the weakest health and social protection systems, feeble or non-existent national and local institutions, and the most restricted fiscal ’space’ to deal with emergency calls on their resources.

In addition, the emerging economic downturn, which may continue long after infections have diminished, could significantly impair the ability of these impoverished nations to rebuild their societies – even to the low level they were at before the virus struck.

There are also fears that the pandemic could potentially ignite or exacerbate grievances and mistrust, between or within societies, about access to the key building-blocks of social rebuilding, such as health services, decent jobs and livelihoods. This could undermine development, peace and social cohesion. For example, during the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in Africa, unrest and conflict emerged in some affected countries, creating a vicious circle that led to even greater fragility.

© Trocaire
There is an urgent need for immediate and coherent measures to protect these double casualties and the societies in which they are concentrated.

In the short term, people need employment guarantees and income support. But we must not ignore the need for a longer-term strategic vision, so that countries develop their own resilience and are able to build back better. This is a call to action that must focus on people, ensuring their livelihoods are restored quickly.

We already have some of the analysis and architecture needed for this. In March the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, launched a report, Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity that looks at how international action can be co-ordinated to counter the blow dealt by the virus. The report is very much in line with the thinking behind the ILO’s Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work, agreed last summer. Both focus on people, particularly the most vulnerable, and the importance of restoring livelihoods.

The ILO also has valuable, on-the-ground experience with delivering the complex and delicate socio-economic responses needed to help the working poor in LDCs, through the flagship programme for Jobs for Peace and Resilience (JPR), which is already operational in more than 30 countries.

JPR, which is based on ILO Recommendation No. 205, takes a modular approach to work in crisis settings. This includes using employment-intensive approaches to create jobs; improving links between labour supply and demand; enhancing skills for employability; and, promoting local economic development and the private sector with support for self-employment, cooperatives and businesses.

The JPR also places a strong focus on institution building, social dialogue and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, because weak governance, a lack of dialogue and rights violations have been shown to slow down crisis recovery and social cohesion.

Only if we really understand the way these complex factors interlink can we create responses that work, and so the sustainable resilience that the people of LDCs need.

By Mito Tsukamoto, ILO Development and Investment Branch