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COVID has hit the Caribbean and Latin America hard. But Haiti is feeling the brunt

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Millions of Haitians have less income today than when the COVID-19 pandemic began, a new study by the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program has found.

Nearly 45% of households in Haiti have lost income, with women — especially mothers with small children — young workers and those with lower levels of education hit particularly hard, the study said.

“A year after the start of the pandemic, women are twice as likely as men to stop working. This has been accompanied by an increase in domestic responsibilities, in particular the supervision of children’s educational activities,” noted UNDP and the World Bank.

The snapshot on Haiti is part of a larger look at the pandemic’s impact across Latin America and the Caribbean in key areas such as labor markets, income, food security, gender equality and access to basic services like education, COVID-19 vaccines and internet connectivity. The report noted that Caribbean countries such as Haiti, Jamaica, Dominica, St. Lucia, Guyana and Belize face particularly worrisome levels of food insecurity.

“For some countries, a visible recovery with respect to the outlook in mid-2020 is observed: Bolivia, Guatemala, and Honduras have displayed the most significant declines in the incidence of food insecurity,” the report said. “On the other hand, the situation in Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador remains worrisome yet stable, with households facing similar levels of food insecurity as they did at the onset of the pandemic in 2020.”

Across the region employment is at around 62%, but the recovery has still fallen short of pre-pandemic levels. In Haiti, where the unemployment rate has always been a matter of debate due to the country’s expansive informal sector, the study said it rose from 41% before the pandemic to 52% in June.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the pre-existing inequalities in the region, where the most vulnerable and poorest groups have been disproportionately affected,” said Luis Felipe López-Calva, UNDP regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report noted that 7% of Haitians with formal jobs before the pandemic now have informal jobs. They also found that, as in Haiti, the quality of available jobs across the region declined, with individuals working fewer hours per week.

“The number of working hours slightly decreased during the pandemic, an alarming aspect if we take into account that Haiti was the country with the lowest number of working hours per week (33 hours per week) and which negatively impacts household income,” the report said.

Experts had feared that with its weak health system and past struggles with infectious diseases, Haiti would be hit with a significant wave of coronavirus infections and deaths. But that has not been the case, even with what is widely recognized as an under-reporting of infections and deaths. As of Dec. 4, the most recent available data, the country had registered 25,691 infections and 754 deaths, giving it one of the lowest death rates in the hemisphere.

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