SEQUIM, Washington — While no country has escaped the devastating effects of COVID-19, it has hit many of the world’s developing countries the hardest. Jamaica, a tropical island nation located in the Caribbean, has been one of the most impacted by the pandemic. Despite these consequences, progress has been made in negating the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Jamaica.
Impact on the Economy
Though still a developing country, Jamaica has had a robust service and tourism industry, which accounts for 70% of its GDP. This unfortunately made its economy very susceptible to the economic repercussions of the pandemic. As lockdowns caused tourism to Jamaica to decline by 70%, in 2020 its GDP fell by a staggering 9.9%. Not surprisingly, many of Jamaica’s already poor populace fell deeper into poverty.
An increase in Poverty
According to the World Bank, Jamaica’s poverty rate increased from 19% in 2018 and 2019 to 23% in 2020. Concurrently, the country’s unemployment rate went up from 7.7% to 9.5% from 2019 to 2020. While some of COVID-19’s economic impacts began to ease, Jamaica’s recovery is still among the slowest among the Caribbean nations, with poverty and inequality divisions as stark as ever.
Access to clean water is one area where this inequality is evident. While two-thirds of Jamaicans have reliable piped water in their homes, many of the country’s poorest have to rely on water from untreated sources such as rivers and ponds. The disparity is economic as well: while the richest Jamaican households spend 1.8% of their income on water, the poorest ones have to spend up to 3.2% of their income on water that is in shakier supply and oftentimes not as safe.
The Road to Recovery
Despite the profound economic impact of COVID-19, progress has been made in Jamaica in helping raise its poorest citizens out of poverty. The government of Jamaica has committed to reducing the country’s public debt from 94% in 2019 to 60% of its GDP by 2028, allowing the allocation of more resources to critical areas including education, infrastructure and poverty reduction.
Jamaica’s economy has seen an immediate rebound: the country’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.6% in July 2022 — a rate lower than even pre-pandemic levels. As the world has opened back up and Jamaica’s tourism industry has begun to flourish once more. Its overall economy has had a strong recovery as well, growing by 8.2% for the fiscal year 2021-22.
Outside Sources Providing Relief
Outside sources have also helped provide relief from the impact of COVID-19 on Jamaica. in 2021, The World Bank established a bond worth $185 million that will help protect the government of Jamaica from damage and losses caused by tropical storms that have and may hit Jamaica between 2021 and 2023. This will grant its government financial breathing room and make it better prepared to protect and help the nation’s most impoverished, be it by providing hurricane relief or creating more economic opportunities for those COVID-19 affected.
Other NGOs have done their part as well. American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ), a nonprofit charity organization, raised over $1.75 million in 2021 to help various programs in Jamaica with COVID-19 relief for the country’s populace.
Jamaica still has a long way to go in overcoming the impact of COVID-19 on poverty — including improving water access to the nation’s poorest and bringing down poverty rates. However, the Jamaican government’s ongoing work to stabilize its economy coupled with aid from the World Bank, AFJ and others will continue to negate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Jamaica.
– Elijah Beglyakov