SEATTLE, Washington — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, nations worldwide faced economic, political and healthcare crises that threatened the stability of their societies. In Mali, COVID-19 pushed an additional 900,000 people into poverty and accelerated the national debt. These terrible consequences of the pandemic add to the low-income country’s high poverty rates, sitting at 42.3% in 2019. While the official poverty rates currently lie near 47%, the World Food Programme estimated that poverty affects approximately 78.1% of people in Mali. Here are essential developments of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali.
For individuals and businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in job loss and disappearing customers. The combined effect of decreasing income and limited international trade resulted in 83% of companies reporting losses in revenue and approximately 12% shutting down entirely.
The shrinking market added to the estimated 900,000 more people falling into poverty due to COVID-19. At the end of March 2020, Mali enacted a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. curfew, causing many working at night to lose their jobs. While these late-night businesses, such as bars, restaurants and some retail stores became deprived of income. Due to closed borders and the increasing poverty, household and business necessities began increasing in price, heightening the effects of poverty.
The high poverty rates in Mali exacerbate the effects of food insecurity, with around 4.3 million people requiring humanitarian assistance. With little available food for families, food insecurity results in stunted growth in 30.4% of children under five. The annual loss in economic productivity in Mali sits at $145 million due to malnutrition.
The majority of the populations living in border regions of Mali, near Burkina Faso and Niger, are experiencing severe food insecurity following the impacts of the pandemic. The interruptions in trade and travel during closed border periods prevented much-needed support to these communities in Mali.
On top of pressing food security issues, the heavy agriculture economy faced a downturn in agriculture during COVID-19, further limiting the access to attainable food. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali is present in the fight to provide food for families across the country, especially for women-led families that face food insecurity at twice the rate as men-led families.
Due to lack of income and widespread school closures, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali decreased access to education for all students, particularly girls in rural regions. Without family incomes, children will abandon school to alleviate costs and support their parents, likely never to return to school.
Girls’ chances of reintegrating into school are lower, as societal and familial influences expose them to early marriage and pregnancy during the pandemic. Fortunately, UNICEF supports community-based interventions in Mali that educate families about the harms of child marriage and early pregnancy so that girls can finish their education.
Since 2012, political instability has prevented lasting economic growth and poverty reduction from taking place in Mali. Constant government turnovers and conflicts between military and rebel groups, such as a military coup in August 2020 deposing a sitting president, make it difficult to form a unified response to a deadly pandemic.
Peacemaking efforts have failed to end the conflict, resulting in violent clashes disrupting access to impoverished regions or limiting UN peacekeepers’ aid. The continuing struggle of military coups and armed resistance against the government exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali.
United Nations Response
While the nation dealt with social and political turmoil, regulations such as curfews went into effect to minimize the impact of the pandemic. At the same time, the United Nations assisted the government in spreading awareness and information about COVID-19. Through the United Nations Volunteers Program (UNV), 60 community volunteers traveled to two of the largest cities by population in Mali, 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 on the health crisis, eliminating stigmatization, misinformation and denial about the disease. Between May and December 2020, the UNV reached around 375,000 people, including more than 250,000 women and internally displaced persons. Through their work, the United Nations helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 and supported the government in educating the population on the pandemic.
Despite these positive efforts, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Mali remains dire, especially in the current socio-political circumstances. More programs beyond the UNV are necessary to decrease the high poverty rates or food insecurity, and the sooner Mali can return to standard functionality, the better.
Overall, Mali’s number of vaccinated people sits at 1.5% due to the lack of available vaccines, reflecting the desperate need for international aid. Support from large vaccine producers is necessary to bring nations without vaccines out of this pandemic and into a system where enterprises and the workforce can restabilize the economy.
– Mikey Redding