SEATTLE, Washington — COVID-19 has made severe global impacts, but impoverished countries are facing the harshest consequences. There are 46 countries identified by the United Nations (UN) as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) due to “severe structural impediments to sustainable development.” These nations have the fewest means with which to fight the pandemic. LDCs have approximately 900 million people and account for less than 1% of recorded COVID-19 cases and deaths. However, these low percentages are not an accurate reflection of the current situation. Without the necessary resources to test people, it is impossible for institutions to gather precise data. COVID’s impacts do not stop with health, either. With global COVID-19 travel bans, LDCs’ economies, heavily reliant on tourism, have disproportionately suffered, as well.
Restrictions Within LDCs
LDCs have had to implement transmission-mitigating guidelines similar to developing countries. These include closing schools and non-essential businesses, travel bans and the prohibition of large gatherings. However, LDCs do not have enough resources to enact effective contact tracing or isolation plans. Additionally, many developing countries do not have adequate government infrastructure to ease the pandemic’s many burdens on households.
The majority of LDCs economies rely on external sources. The success of many underdeveloped countries currently hangs by the threads of tourism, trade and global exports. Since global lockdowns are in place, all three of these aspects have seen significant constriction. On top of that, in contrast to developed nations’ employment adaptations, LDCs do not have the technology for widespread remote work, causing unemployment rates to skyrocket.
How Have Travel Bans Affected LDCs?
As the dominant economic contributor to many LDCs, travel is pivotal to their growth. Tourism accounts for more than 9% of LDCs Gross Domestic Product (GDP) income and employment. Africa as a whole receives approximately $55 billion and employs 6.2 million people in the air transport industry. In certain LDCs such as Seychelles, Cabo Verde and Mauritius, the numbers are much higher at 20% of total employment.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimated that 2020 international travel declined by 70-75% compared to 2019. These drastic numbers indicate a loss of tens of billions of dollars from tourists to LDC economies that heavily depend on tourism. Frequently purchased items by tourists, such as garments, are no longer being purchased, leading to a collapse in many markets. COVID-19 travel bans have also significantly reduced remittances, which provide families in LDCs with essential income. Migrant workers have been forced back home or are unable to send money to their families like they were before the pandemic. The influx of workers back home has also placed more strain on domestic economies in LDCs, increasing unemployment even further.
How Will LDCs Recover?
Although lifting COVID-19 travel bans would positively affect LDCs’ economies, complete recovery is only possible once impoverished countries become safer and improve medical accessibility. LDCs have far more work to do than developed countries, as their global GDP share is at 2%, trade at 1% and poverty at 40%. In terms of solutions, LDC governments can approach development banks, such as the World Bank, for loans and grants. So far, The Gambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Solomon Islands, seven LDCs, are eligible for two years of debt relief services from the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust. Additionally, The Enhanced Integrated Framework is performing tourism projects with external governments, which will eventually provide $6.5 million to Liberia, Comoros, Djibouti, Uganda and Sierra Leone.
– Maya Sulkin