Will the emergency response plans for COVID-19 reach the world’s poorest people?

  • Negotiations are underway to determine the size and scale of COVID-19 aid to help the world’s poorest countries recover from the pandemic.
  • The World Bank estimates that almost 100 million more people ended up in deepest poverty in 2020 due to the pandemic.
  • COVID-19 relief programs must deliberately involve people living in extreme poverty to ensure a resilient and equitable economic recovery.

World leaders are about to sign a historic and unprecedented financing deal to fuel recovery from the pandemic. A whopping $90-100 billion is in the account of the World Bank International Development Association‘s (IDA) negotiating table in 2021 to help the world’s poorest countries rebuild from the pandemic over the next three years.

Negotiations on how to spend this money will have critical implications for our global landscape, determining not only what strategies will be followed to support our recovery, but also whether global problems such as extreme poverty will inadvertently increase. We should all be deeply concerned that public funding for the IDA is being spent as effectively as possible on the critical issues that threaten global progress and growth well beyond the COVID-19 crisis. We need urgent and strategic action, as the World Bank estimates that: almost 100 million more people the deepest states of poverty ended up after pandemic-induced economic shocks.

Economic inclusion and extreme poverty

The expansion of economic integration programs can have a huge impact on extreme poverty worldwide. To date, they have enabled millions of people around the world to escape long-term cycles of extreme poverty. These interventions aim to enable people who are socially and economically excluded to build sustainable livelihoods and often include providing support for their basic needs in addition to asset transfer, skills training and ongoing coaching.


The scientific basis for these programs is broad and growing: in research from the London School of Economics, 93% of participants in BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program in Bangladesh see continuous increases in income, savings, consumption and self-esteem for years after program interventions have ended. According to the World Bank, these interventions were a tool of choice for governments during the pandemic, with 219 programs now reach nearly 92 million people in 75 countries.

Civil society members with extensive experience working with people in the most severe poverty states are calling for complements to current funding proposals to ensure they are not left behind. In a September 2021 letter to officials of the more than 50 donor governments to the IDA, 35 organizations and allies affiliated with the World Bank’s Leadership Collaborative on Ending Ultra-Poverty, a group of northern and southern NGOs, researchers and practitioners committed to achieving SDG 1, outlined concrete proposals to tackle the most serious forms of poverty.

A family in Bangladesh's southern Rangpur district stops to pose near farm machinery as part of their participation in BRAC's Ultra-Poor Graduation Program

A family in Bangladesh’s southern Rangpur district, participants in BRAC .’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program

Image: BRAC

The proposals are based on our experience and rigorous research suggesting that without specifically committed efforts the funds will not achieve the following: the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day, who experience multidimensional, structural vulnerabilities. The World Bank has already accepted that IDA programs to support expanding adaptive social protection and building resilience to shocks should deliberately prioritize and include targeted mechanisms to reach people living deeper in poverty to achieve upward social and economic benefits. accelerate mobility more fully. However, the latest draft of the IDA package does not contain concrete targets and indicators for reaching this critical population.

There is an opportunity to include a focus on people living in extreme poverty in the system used to measure the effects of IDA funding, promoting greater accountability for the goals of helping people living in extreme poverty. to achieve life. Current systems of distributing aid to the world’s poorest, through which IDA funds would flow, have significant leakage that weakens their impact. The aim of the World Bank database indicates that in 2018, between 25% and 60% of remittances and social assistance benefits went to people in the top three poverty quintiles in Africa, with the poorest people largely missing out. To avoid a repeat of history, when reporting on safety net coverage, the IDA must both measure and report the flow of funds to the lowest poverty quintile.

A more ambitious COVID-19 emergency plan

The proposed targets for people living in poverty achieved by the plan could be more ambitious and specific for reaching people living in extreme poverty. Given the projected growth in the number of people living in poverty due to the combined factors of COVID-19, climate change and demographic growth, we recommend a significant increase in IDA targets. The previous 2019 IDA funding package set a target for 30 to 40 million people to be reached by safety nets across all quintiles of poverty. We believe that the IDA 20 package: should go further, aiming to reach at least 44-54 million people (taking into account demographic growth and excluding temporary coverage of COVID-19), for all quintiles, the majority of whom are people in extreme poverty. The recently released IDA concept is encouraging in that it reaches a minimum level of 75 million people, but unfortunately this number includes the numerous recipients of temporary pandemic benefits and there is no focus on people in the lowest quintiles.

If accepted, these changes could go a long way toward integrating more people who struggle daily to make ends meet. Given the staggering number of people living in extreme poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deliberate inclusion of people living in extreme poverty in programs is critical to ensuring a resilient and equitable economic recovery.

IDA funding will be an unprecedented moment of collective action by donor governments at a time of high deficits and fierce competition for scarce resources. To build support and fully cope with this moment of crisis, a ‘business as usual’ approach will not work. We must be able to demonstrate clear efforts to effectively reach those who are most marginalized.

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