Extreme poverty rises and a generation sees future slip away

National/World
Mother of two Amsale Hailemariam, a domestic worker who lost work because of the coronavirus, hangs clothes after washing them outside her small tent in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Friday, June 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — As a domestic worker, Amsale Hailemariam knew from the inside out the luxury villas that had grown up around her simple shelter of raw metal and plastic sheeting. And in them, she saw how her country, Ethiopia, had transformed.

The single mother told herself, “Oh God, a day will come when my life will be changed, too.” The key lay in her daughter, just months from a career in public health, who studied how to battle the illnesses of want and hunger.

Then a virus mentioned in none of her textbooks arrived, and dreams faded for families, and entire countries, like theirs.

Decades of progress in one of modern history’s greatest achievements, the fight against extreme poverty, are in danger of slipping away because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The world could see its first increase in extreme poverty in 22 years, further sharpening social inequities.

“We are living in a state where we are above the dead and below the living,” Amsale said, near tears. “This is not life.”

With the virus and its restrictions, up to 100 million more people globally could fall into the bitter existence of living on just $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. That’s “well below any reasonable conception of a life with dignity,” the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty wrote this year. And it comes on top of the 736 million people already there, half of them in just five countries: Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Congo and Bangladesh.

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