THE World Bank has revised its projections for global economic growth, with Zimbabwe now envisaged to shrink by 10% this year against the backdrop of structural vulnerabilities accentuated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
For developing nations, the bank recommends that they tackle these daunting challenges, strengthen public health systems, harness the opportunities arising from the informal sector, and implement reforms that will support strong and sustainable growth in a post-Covid-19 world.
Standards of living are taking a massive knock in virtually every country, but for Zimbabwe this spells trouble. More than half the population was already facing starvation even before Covid-19 hit and poverty was endemic.
The pandemic is decimating per capita incomes and plunging more families into untold hardship. In this country — as in many others — poverty has brought its own set of worrying dynamics that are heightening socio-economic inequities and turmoil.
Women, who carry a disproportionate burden of the responsibility to care for the sick, are not being paid for this important work in most cases. Although this unpaid work is important for community building and national development, it is plunging an increasing number of women into deeper poverty. Women are predominantly responsible for managing households, often with adequate resources. In most instances, this amounts to unpaid work. These structural fault lines are weakening society in profound ways.
Cash remittances from the diaspora have been a major lifeline to Zimbabwean families for decades. Covid-19 has torn that safety net. Foreign-based workers have either lost their jobs or have been displaced by the pandemic; either way, the diasporans urgently need rescue packages to help them get back on their feet, therefore they are in no position to assist families back home. The consequences for poverty-stricken households are dire; it must be remembered that in this country there are more people dependent on remittances than on formal jobs.
Decimated remittances are not the only headache. Mineral prices have taken a battering, making it more difficult for commodity-dependent economies to weather the Covid-19 storm. This is where everyone will be reminded of the importance of healthy foreign currency reserves. Zimbabwe, with barely two weeks’ cover, will find the going tough, as shown by fuel shortages which are worsening by the day.
Tourism, another main source of forex inflows, is reeling under the devastation wrought by Covid-19. An optimistic prognosis is that it will take years for the sector to recover. Some scientists are convinced that the coronavirus is here to stay — and if they are correct, it means tourism may not recover anytime soon.
The economic and humanitarian toll of Covid-19 is immense. The government must implement genuine far-reaching economic and political reforms. This is the only way out. So far, the leaders have only paid lip service without showing practical commitment to embracing comprehensive change.