HEIDELBERG, Germany — Kosovo has been coping with the diverse ramifications of the pandemic since March 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Kosovo has been intense, as the pandemic is still affecting businesses, households, people’s everyday lives and their physical and mental health. While central and health care institutions were trying to handle the crisis, the emergency measures taken by the Kosovo government significantly affected people and businesses across the country.
Kosovo is one of the poorest places in Europe, with almost one-quarter of the population living under the poverty line. The pandemic caused an unprecedented rise in job losses. The youth unemployment rate rose to 48.6% overall in 2021 and 53.5% for women. As a result of the crisis, adolescent girls were at a higher risk of mental and reproductive health concerns, as well as unequal gender roles at home.
U.N. Women Kosovo, UNDP and UNFPA Kosovo organized a nationwide survey to evaluate the socio-economic impact of COVID-19. Together, these agencies have a sustainable goal of fighting global poverty, achieving gender equality, promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth. Over 1400 adults were interviewed. According to the data gathered, the biggest losses were in remittance-generated income, farming, and family businesses. The lockdown measures particularly affected self-employed women and men. Around 62% of the population experienced a reduction in paid work hours.
Kosovo experienced four waves of the pandemic starting in March 2020. The fatality rate (2.6 registered deaths per 100 cases) was higher than in other economy from the region.
The pandemic affected Kosovo’s economy, with a 6.9% contraction caused by a decline in consumption and government support. However, surges in remittance receipts and exports helped avert a deeper recession.
The pre-existing volatile socio-economic conditions determine the medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Kosovo. Taking such conditions into account will help policymakers design policies accordingly. High levels of unemployment and shortcomings in its health and social systems exacerbated the COVID-19 crisis. Such short and medium-term impacts of the pandemic strengthened the socio-economic divide and enhanced the vulnerability of the most disadvantaged.
Informal Employment and Social Protection Coverage
According to OECD, “informal employment accounts for 35% of total employment” and the pandemic aggravated the vulnerability, especially of informal workers, by causing a decrease in their incomes. This could further increase the inequality gap and push more people below the poverty line.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis disproportionately affected people without social protection coverage. Kosovo’s social protection spending is lower than the OECD average, and the central government lacks a proper social insurance system. On the other hand, there is a problem of brain drain. Many qualified doctors and nurses have moved to Western European countries for better opportunities, and medical staff shortage has become a cornerstone of the challenge, OECD reported.
Rapid Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA)
UNDP, U.N. Women and UNFPA have also conducted a Rapid Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA). The SEIA findings show that the crisis in Kosovo had gendered effects, with women being more severely affected than men. The assessment measured increasing unemployment and exacerbated poverty, job insecurity, increase in domestic violence and significant lag in education.
These U.N. agencies help better understand the broader socio-economic impact this crisis has caused, allowing governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations to work on appropriate policy responses targeted towards those that have been principally exposed to the crisis. With the help of these UN agencies, the government of Kosovo has managed to designate policies that would forestall major crises.
Even before the pandemic, Kosovo faced significant health and socio-economic challenges. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Kosovo exacerbated unemployment, aggravated the people’s material well-being and social protection and exposed Kosovo’s institutional weaknesses. Nonetheless, the crisis stimulated the government to conduct structural changes in its policy-making. With the contribution of non-governmental institutions, it became possible to avert a deeper economic recession.
– Nino Basaria