UNU-WIDER ongoing work on the effect of COVID-19 on the economies, states, and societies of the Global South

It is clear that COVID-19 will have serious implications for economies, states, and societies of the Global South. At UNU-WIDER we are reorienting our work to think through what those implications are and possible mitigation and adaptation measures in the short and medium term. We will update this page with all our initiatives, papers, and opinion on this topic.

Our work on COVID-19 will continue to focus on on the five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that all of our work during 2019-2023 addresses; SDG5 - Gender Equality, SDG8 - Decent work and Economic Growth, SDG10 - Reduced Inequalities, SDG16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and SDG17 - Partnerships for the Goals.

WIDER-Webinar-image from UNDP-Bangladesh-COVID19
WIDER Webinar Series | How is COVID-19 changing development?

NEXT EVENT | 10 November 
François Roubaud and Isabelle Guérin on COVID-19 and the role of RCTs in development

WORKING PAPER | Migration and the labour market impacts of COVID-19 | Nathan Barker, C. Austin Davis, Paula López-Peña, Harrison Mitchell, A. Mushfiq Mobarak, Karim Naguib, Maira Emy Reimão, Ashish Shenoy, Corey Vernot

Using detailed microdata, we document how migration-dependent households are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tax to GDP per region 1988-2018, source: GRDBlog | Data for better policies | Kyle McNabb

Thanks to the updated version of the Government Revenue Dataset (GRD) we are now able to gain a clear picture of tax and other revenue trends in over 190 countries over the past four decades, now up until 2018. The GRD remains the most complete source of cross-country revenue data available, and it serves as a key resource for understanding the effects of economic shocks and policy changes on public revenue.

BLOG | Barriers to opportunity for students in Mozambique | Anna Schnupp

Across Mozambique, 1,600 secondary school graduates from technical and vocational (TVET) institutes are being tracked as part of the school-to-work transition survey of the Inclusive growth in Mozambique programme — the country’s first long-term study in this area. Back in January, I conducted in-depth interviews with 22 graduates, who shared their hopes and fears for the future as they enter the working world.

Image from 1918 flu pandemicWORKING PAPER | The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918–20 | Prema-chandra Athukorala & Chaturica Athukorala

The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-20—commonly known as the Spanish flu—infected over a quarter of the world’s population and killed over 50 million people. It is by far the greatest humanitarian disaster caused by infectious disease in modern history. Epidemiologists and health scientists often draw on this experience to set the plausible upper bound (the ‘worst case scenario’) on future pandemic mortality. Read more

BLOG | Decent work and COVID-19 – it’s time for a just deal for all workers | Kunal Sen 

The 2020 Jobs and Development Conference, held online on 1-4 September, focused on better jobs for development. In the policy panel with Indhira Vanessa Santos from the World Bank, Sangheon Lee from ILO, Martha Chen from the Harvard Kennedy School, and Haroon Bhorat from the University of Cape Town, we took stock of what we know about the employment effects of the pandemic in the Global South, the policy responses and their impacts, successes, and what more can be done to protect workers. Read more

BLOG | Graduating in the shadow of the pandemic | Ivan Manhique and Gimelgo Xirinda

Since appearing in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into an unprecedented health and socioeconomic crisis. There is speculation that this new reality is negatively impacting, in particular, young people in the Mozambican economy. But so far, concrete information on the effects of the pandemic on the well-being of this part of the population is sparse. Read more

WORKING PAPER | Data, global development, and COVID-19 | Wim Naudé & Ricardo Vinuesa

The COVID-19 pandemic holds lessons for the relationship between data-driven decision making, the use of artificial intelligence, and development. The consequences for data policy and data science are that trust, equality, context, and political leadership are as important, if not more, than technology. Read more

Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images/Images of EmpowermentBLOG | Do we have the right balance? | Sanjay Reddy

The world has been shaken by unprecedented efforts in the name of public health. But, efforts to arrest COVID-19 were not initially formulated with a comprehensive view of the public health in mind. These policies must be adjusted and revisited if they are to promote public health holistically conceived. Read more 

BLOG | Five ways coronavirus is deepening global inequality | Kunal Sen

Before coronavirus, inequality was already increasing in many parts of the developing world. But the pandemic is going to greatly heighten existing economic and social inequalities. Here are five of the main ways inequality is heightening around the world. Read more

Juan Arredondo/Getty Images/Images of EmpowermentBLOG | COVID-19 intensifies global need to support informal workers in their struggle | Marty Chen

The world is facing an existential crisis that poses challenging questions: whether to put people and nature before owners of capital and technology; whether to protect the rights of the disadvantaged or the interests of the elite. Read more

WORKING PAPER | State–market–society alliance | Pui Yi Wong

While mainstream economics since the 1980s has been largely characterized by neo-liberal ideology, the past decade witnessed the rise of nationalism and protectionist policies globally. The latest COVID-19 pandemic has further refocused attention on the crucial roles played by effective states in protecting public welfare and a working economy. Read more

Unsplash / Kenya /  Jordi FernandezBACKGROUND NOTE | Do more diversified suppliers rebound faster than concentrated suppliers in times of shocks? | Aarti Krishnan and Giovanni Pasquali

In this background note, we examine how different firms and sectors rebound or prevail in crises. We draw on insights from the performance (upgrading potential) of Kenyan horticulture, tea, and leather export firms during two recent, but very different, shocks to the Kenyan economy. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE | COVID-19 and employment | Michael Danquah, Simone Schotte, and Kunal Sen

Policy makers in the Global South have responded with a range of measures, varying from cash transfers for the poor to loans for small enterprise. In this note, we summarize some of the impacts of COVID-19 on employment and livelihoods, and detail the policy responses of developing countries, drawing from the sub-Saharan African experience. Read more 

© Dominic Chavez/World BankBLOG | The labour market implications of COVID-19 for Bangladeshi women | Sayema Haque Bidisha and Avinno Faruk

With the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Bangladesh on 8 March 2020 and the initiation of a lockdown on 26 March 2020, the livelihoods of a significant number of people were under serious threat — with women most likely to suffer the worst impacts for a variety of reasons.

BLOG | Is COVID-19 really an exogenous shock? COVID-19 really an exogenous shock? | by Dev Nathan, Govind Kelkar

Economists invariably divide shocks into two types: endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous shocks arise from within the economic system. The Great Recession of 2008 was sparked off by the shock of the financial crisis. This clearly originated from within the economic system. In India, the demonetization of 2016 was a shock caused by an economic policy. Therefore, it was an endogenous shock from within the economy, including its policy formulation and governance system.

CDC-UnsplashBLOG | The debate around intellectual property rights and the COVID-19 vaccine | Arnab Acharya

The most effective way to fight COVID-19 is by vaccinating against infection. But once the vaccine is developed, how can it be distributed across the world’s population?
The key will be decoupling the production of the vaccine from its development.

WORKING PAPER | Healthcare equity and COVID-19 | Krishna Chaitanya Vadlamannati, Arusha Cooray, Indra de Soysa

Scholars of public health typically focus on societal equity for explaining public health outcomes. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spate of studies showing a tight connection between inequitable access to healthcare, welfare services, and adverse outcomes from the pandemic. Read more.

© World Bank /KapuscinskiBLOG | Global poverty: coronavirus could drive it up for the first time since the 1990s | Andy Sumner, Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez, Chris Hoy

As COVID-19 slows in developed countries, the virus’s spread is speeding up in the developing world. Three-quarters of new cases detected each day are now in developing countries. And as the pandemic spreads, governments face juggling the health consequences with economic ones as this shifts to becoming an economic crisis. Read more

WORKING PAPER | Trust in the time of corona | Tilman Brück, Neil T. N. Ferguson, Patricia Justino, and Wolfgang Stojetz

The global spread of COVID-19 is one of the largest threats to people and governments since the Second World War. The on-going pandemic and its countermeasures have led to varying physical, psychological, and emotional experiences, shaping not just public health and the economy but also societies. Read more

© World Bank / FarhatWORKING PAPER | Evolution of multidimensional poverty in crisis-ridden Mozambique | Eva-Maria Egger, Vincenzo Salvucci, and Finn Tarp

Mozambique experienced important reduction in the poverty rate until recently, before two major natural disasters hit and the country started suffering from a hidden debt scandal with associated economic slowdown. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE | Making a COVID-19 vaccine globally available once developed | Arnab Acharya

There is a high risk that the intellectual property (IP) rights of a COVID-19 vaccine will effectively block people in many poorer countries from accessing it. To avoid this situation, I propose that a practical solution would be to separate out the manufacturing of the vaccine from its development, which would allow the vaccine to be sold at a price near the cost of its production. Read more

Unsplash / Jasper WildeBLOG | Poverty and the pandemic in the Pacific | Chris Hoy

COVID-19 has had a far greater economic impact than health impact on Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Pacific. There has been extensive commentary about the likely macroeconomic effects of lockdowns and travel bans, but less attention has been given to how damaging the current crisis has been on people’s living standards. In this blog, I help to fill this gap by drawing on analysis that Andy Sumner, Eduardo Ortiz-Juariz and I have done. Our results suggest that the number of people living in extreme poverty in the region could increase by over 40% in the short term. Read more

WORKING PAPER | Precarity and the pandemic | Andy Sumner, Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez, Chris Hoy

This paper makes a set of estimates for the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on poverty incidence, intensity, and severity in developing countries and on the distribution of global poverty. We conclude there could be increases in poverty of a substantial magnitude—up to 400 million new poor living under the $1.90 poverty line, over 500 million new poor living under the poverty lines of $3.20 and $5.50. Read more

Market stall - UnsplashBLOG | The end of poverty postponed? | Andy Sumner, Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez, Chris Hoy

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate headlines as the death toll rises and economies falter. However, far too little attention is being given to the worsening crisis in developing countries where coronavirus is spreading rapidly and governments grapple with the devastating economic consequences of prolonged shutdowns and the collapse of world trade. Three-quarters of new cases detected every day are in developing countries. Read more

© UNDP / Somalia
WORKING PAPER | Africa’s lockdown dilemma | Eva-Maria Egger, Sam Jones, Patricia Justino, Ivan Manhique, Ricardo Santos

The primary policy response to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in high-income countries has been to lock down large sections of the population. However, there is growing unease that blindly replicating these policies might inflict irreparable damage to poor households and foment social unrest in developing countries. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE | COVID-19 and the socioeconomic impact in Africa: The case of Ghana | Michael Danquah and Simone Schotte

When lifting the partial lockdown, the president cited the country’s current capacity to trace, test, isolate and quarantine, and treat victims of the disease as one of the reasons for the decision. Nonetheless, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections has been escalating. Read more

© World Bank / Henitsoa RafaliaWORKING PAPER | COVID-19 - macroeconomic dimensions in the developing world | Tony Addison, Kunal Sen & Finn Tarp

The pandemic has macroeconomic dimensions. First, it affects macroeconomic stability and growth. Second, the tools of macroeconomic policy—fiscal and monetary policy together with debt management and exchange rate policy—must deal with the economic shock. Read more

WORKING PAPER | COVID-19 and global poverty: Are LDCs being left behind? | Giovanni Valensisi

This paper provides a preliminary assessment of COVID-19’s impact on global poverty in the light of the IMF’s April 2020 growth forecasts. The analysis shows that the pandemic will have dramatic consequences, eroding many of the gains recorded over the last decade in terms of poverty reduction. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE | Artificial intelligence versus COVID-19 in developing countries | Wim Naudé

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in December 2019, there has been a rush to harness AI in the fight. AI can help track and predict the spread of the infection, it can help make diagnoses and prognoses, and it can search for treatments and a vaccine. It can also be used for social control—for instance, to help isolate those that are infected and monitor and enforce compliance with lockdown measures. Read more

Unsplash - South Africa - Hennie StanderBLOG | Temporary shock or lasting poverty trap? COVID-19 in South Africa | Simone Schotte

South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown regulations are likely to have a devastating impact on the incomes of workers and their dependents. Already disadvantaged groups will suffer disproportionately from the adverse effects. Read more

Data image. Unsplash-Franki-ChamakiBLOG | Artificial intelligence vs. COVID-19 in developing countries | Wim Naudé

The rush to harness Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the fight against the pandemic may be an opportunity for developing countries to accelerate the digitalization of their economies. Read more


WORKING PAPER | COVID-19: mortality, future years lost, and demographic structure | Clive Bell

COVID-19 causes extremely high mortality among the old. This motivates a comparison of the losses of future lifetime years and future lifetime years of work ensuing from a hypothetical 25,000 excess deaths in Italy, whose affluent population is one of the world’s oldest, with those in Kenya, whose population is one of the most youthful and poor. Read more

Corona virus image: unsplashWIDER Webinar Series | How is COVID-19 changing development? 

The webinar series features a line-up of eminent researchers and development specialists to present new research on the implications they foresee of COVID-19 for global development efforts and the economic and social impacts for the Global South. Read more

Working from home/Unsplash-Luke-PetersBLOG | Who gets to work from home? | Piotr Lewandowski

The COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an unprecedented shock for labour markets around the world. Non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing, and limits on economic activity and mobility of people, are a necessary response. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 80% of the world population is under some form of lockdown. Read more

Mozambique - World Bank / Farhat BLOG | The five criteria low income countries must have in place for lockdowns to work | Sam Jones, Eva-Maria Egger, Ricardo Santos 

As the COVID-19 virus has spread across the globe, developing countries are starting to enact many of the same policies used in China, Europe, and North America to contain the virus. But are these policies appropriate in low income contexts? Read more

Handshake in gloves: UnsplashBLOG | An unprecedented threat requires unprecedented leadership | Arkebe Oqubay

COVID-19 is the greatest global threat the world has faced since the Second World War. It is not the deadliest or most infectious disease recorded, but the level of globalization and interconnectedness of the world render it particularly destructive. Read more

Migrant worker © IOM FlickrBLOG | Migrant workers in the Covid-19 pandemic | Eva-Maria Egger, Kunal Sen

Millions of migrant workers around the world provide valuable income for their families and contribute more broadly to the economies of both their home and host countries. Now, as a result of border closures and widespread lockdowns, many are unable to take shelter, to go home, or to report for work. As this column explains, finding solutions to the issues facing migrant workers during the Covid-19 pandemic is imperative. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE  | COVID-19 and socioeconomic impact in Africa: The case of Kenya | Maureen Were

The COVID-19 pandemic has now spread to over 180 countries, including several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya reported its first COVID-19 case on 13 March 2020. By 31 March the number of confirmed cases had risen to 59, with over 70 per cent of infections in Nairobi. As at 22 April 2020, the number had quintupled to 303—the highest so far among the East African Community (EAC) member states. Read more

Kenya-Unsplash-Jessica-PampBLOG | How Africa can fight the pandemic | Arkebe Oqubay

The response to Africa’s COVID-19 plight must be swift and at scale rather than too little, too late. In a world short of progressive global leadership, where rules-based global governance is under threat, this is a chance for African and international policymakers to take decisive action. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE  | COVID-19 and socioeconomic impact in Africa: The case of South Africa | Amina Ebrahim

What has the government of South Africa done with respect to COVID-19 measures of mitigation and suppression?
The first COVID-19 positive case was confirmed on 5 March 2020. Just ten days later, South Africa had 61 positive cases and President Ramaphosa addressed the country, calling for measures to combat the spread of the virus and declaring a national state of disaster. Read more

BLOG | How do we live with corona? | Ghassan Baliki, Tilman Brück, Neil Ferguson, Patricia Justino, Wolfgang Stojetz

People who live through extreme events are, often deeply, altered by the experiences they have. Even when those experiences take place predominantly in the physical realm, they are also events of consciousness. Read more

BACKGROUND NOTE | COVID-19 and socioeconomic impact in Asia: The case of India | Kunal Sen

Several countries have enacted lockdown measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect their health systems and reduce the number of mortalities. One of the most extreme national lockdown measures has been taken by the government of India, with over 1.3 billion persons put under a strictly enforced lockdown on 24 March for an initial period of three weeks. 
What has the government of India done with respect to COVID-19 measures of mitigation and suppression? Read more

BLOG | Age composition of population and Covid-19 | Kunal Sen and Parantap Basu

In this post, Basu and Sen show that Covid-19 casualty is higher in countries where there is a large ageing population, and therefore question whether a draconian lockdown is a practical policy going forward for India, where the proportion of elderly population is low.​ Read more

WORKING PAPER | Estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty | Andy Sumner, Chris Hoy, Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez

Our estimates show that COVID poses a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030 because global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990 and, depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of approximately a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty. Read more

Unsplash / Patric HendryBLOG | Will COVID-19 lead to half a billion more people living in poverty in developing countries? | Andy Sumner, Chris Hoy, Eduardo Ortiz-Juarez

The impacts of COVID-19 in developing countries are starting to be felt. The Economist went as far as to call it the ‘next calamity’, noting how overlooked the impact on poorer countries has been. Read more

John Hogg / World BankBLOG | Is Mozambique prepared for a lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic? | Sam Jones, Ricardo Santos, Eva-Maria Egger

Many countries have introduced home isolation and lockdown measures as a response. These measures have been adopted by governments in the Global North and the Global South, but are likely to cause greater difficulty in lower-income countries. Read more

© John Isaac / World BankBLOG | COVID-19 and lockdowns: Are women more affected? | Bina Agarwal

Globally, governments are using lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19. This has disproportionately affected the poor, the homeless, and the migrants who are left without livelihoods, especially where the lockdown is country-wide, as in India. But has it affected women more than men? If so, in what ways? Read more

Indian streets-UnsplashBLOG | To die from hunger or the virus: An all too real dilemma for the poor in India (and elsewhere) | Marty Chen 

On March 24, in a speech to the nation, Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, announced a 21-day lockdown. With only four hours’ notice, 1.3 billion people were expected to stay at home and not venture out for three weeks. All buses, trains and domestic air flights were suspended. But the authorities had not planned for, much less prepared for, how to handle an abrupt lockdown in such a vast, complex and unequal country. Read more

Read more on COVID-19, informal workers and WIEGO’s work during this crisis at

Life with corona -surveySURVEY | Join our citizen science project

UNU-WIDER has partnered up with a team of international researchers from the International ISDC, IDS and IGZ on an exciting and very timely research initiative to collect real time data on the coronavirus and its social and economic consequences. The project is called Life with Corona, with overall aim to build a global knowledge base about how people are dealing with the exceptional situation we currently find ourselves living in.

Available in 15 languages Life with Corona includes various modules that allow a comprehensive insight into daily life during the pandemic. Some of the research questions include:

•    What implications will this Corona pandemic have on the daily lives of people around the world? 
•    How will it affect the mental health, consumption and eating habits, social cohesion as well as expectations towards politics and public administration? 
•    How will these factors develop over time as new information about the virus emerges and new measures are implemented by states?

Scientifically-valid answers to these questions are of critical importance for dealing with the pandemic for maintaining health, nutrition, and social peace around the world. 

Take the survey here

Avel Chuklanov / UnsplashBLOG  When COVID-19 comes to AfricaArkebe Oqubay

There is no telling how long it will take to bring the COVID-19 coronavirus under control, or how many people will be affected. But African governments, in cooperation with communities and international actors, can take steps now to limit the damage – and lay the foundations for a healthier, more resilient future.
Read more