A new report released by the World Bank reveals that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic threatens hard-won gains in health and education over the past decade, especially in the poorest countries.
According to the new World Bank Group analysis, investments in human capital, which is the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives, are key to unlocking a person’s potential and to improving economic growth in every country.
The World Bank Group’s 2020 Human Capital Index includes health and education data for 174 countries – covering 98 percent of the world’s population– up to March 2020, providing a pre-pandemic baseline on the health and education of children.
The analysis indicates that prior to the pre- COVID-19 Pandemic, most countries had made steady progress in building the human capital of children, with the biggest strides made in low-income countries.
However, despite this progress, and even before the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a child born in a typical country could expect to achieve just 56 per cent of their potential human capital, relative to a benchmark of complete education and full health.
World Bank Group President David Malpass said that; “The COVID-19 Pandemic puts at risk the decade’s progress in building human capital, including the improvements in health, survival rates, school enrollment, and reduced stunting. The economic impact of the pandemic has been particularly deep for women and for the most disadvantaged families, leaving many vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty.”
He added that; “Protecting and investing in people is vital as countries work to lay the foundation for sustainable, inclusive recoveries and future growth.”
The analysis asserts that due to the pandemic’s impact, most children– almost over 1 billion – have been out of school and could lose out, on average, half a year of schooling, translating into considerable monetary losses.
Data from the World Bank also shows significant disruptions to essential health services for women and children, with many children missing out on crucial vaccinations, which is likely to affect their future lives.
The 2020 Human Capital Index also presents a decade-long view of the evolution of human capital outcomes from 2010 through 2020, finding improvements across all regions, where data are available, and across all income levels.
These were largely due to improvements in health, reflected in reduce infant and mother mortality rate, plus reduced stunting and an increase in school enrollment. This progress is now at risk due to the global pandemic, which had reversed it.
However, the World Bank analysis finds that human capital outcomes for girls are on average higher than for boys.
But this has not translated into comparable opportunities to use human capital in the labour market: on average, employment rates are 20 percentage points lower for women than for men, with a wider gap in many countries and regions. Moreover, the pandemic is aggravating risks of gender-based violence, child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, all of which further reduce opportunities for learning and empowerment for women and girls, on top of reducing their survival rate.
It should be noted that today, hard-won human capital gains in many countries are at risk. But countries can do more than just work to recover the lost progress.
To protect and extend earlier human capital gains, countries need to expand health service coverage and quality among marginalized communities, boost learning outcomes together with school enrollments and support vulnerable families with social protection measures adapted to the scale of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
To achieve this, the World Bank Group is working closely with governments to develop long-term solutions to protect and invest in people during and after the pandemic:
For instance, in Ethiopia, Haiti and Mongolia, the Bank has been supporting the acquisition of vital medical equipment.
In Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, and Nepal, the Bank is supporting the development of school safety and hygiene protocols while working with Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene teams to provide basic sanitization and hygiene supplies.
In Jordan and Turkey, through recently approved new operations, the Bank is supporting the development of TV and digital content for blended teaching and learning for the new academic year, as well as psycho-social counseling and remedial courses.
In the Sahel region, the Bank is backing the Sahel Women’s Economic Empowerment and the Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project aimed at creating a favorable environment for women and girls’ empowerment through programs to keep girls in school, and to expand economic opportunities and access to quality reproductive health services.
The Bank is also helping India immediately scale-up cash transfers and food benefits, using a set of pre-existing national platforms and programs, to provide social protection for essential workers involved in COVID-19 relief efforts; and benefit vulnerable groups, particularly migrants and informal workers, who face high risks of exclusion.
Besides that, ambitious, evidence-driven policy measures in health, education, and social protection can recover lost ground and pave the way for today’s children to surpass the human capital achievements and quality of life of the generations that preceded them. Fully realizing the creative promise embodied in each child has never been more important.
The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response.
They are supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs.
According to their projection, they will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of the new International Direct Assistance (IDA) resources through grants and highly concessional loans.
All this is aimed at helping these developing countries overcome the effects of the pandemic on their economies and to boost service provision especially for the poor people in developing countries.