By Fabian Cambero
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Latin America and the Caribbean countries in the throes of the coronavirus crisis will only see their problems made worse by festering inequality, poverty and an ailing social safety net, a United Nations agency said on Thursday.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said social unrest was on the rise across the region, a sign that immediate action was necessary to aid hard-hit countries struggling long before the pandemic hit.
“The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have spread to all areas of human life, altering the way we interact, paralyzing economies and generating profound changes in societies,” the report said.
Persistently high levels of inequality, the agency said, combined with a sprawling informal labor market that leaves workers without protection and a lack of effective health care coverage have made those problems worse.
Urban slums on the fringes of many of the region’s cities often lack access to basic services, mean many citizens found themselves unable to access food, water and healthcare necessary to confront the crisis.
Poverty meanwhile, has crept upward, while advances in reducing inequality have stagnated, exacerbating trends seen in the five years prior to the crisis.
During that period, Latin America and Caribbean economies grew an average of just 0.3% per year overall, while extreme poverty increased from 7.8% to 11.3% of the population and poverty, from 27.8% to 30.5%.
The report also said the prolonged closure of schools in the region could constitute a “generational catastrophe” that will only deepen inequality.
The pandemic has also brought a rise in mortality that could push down life expectancy in the region depending how long the crisis endures, the agency said.
There have been at least 21,699,000 reported infections and 687,000 reported deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Latin America and the Caribbean so far.
Of every 100 infections last reported around the world, about 24 were reported from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Angus MacSwan)