COVID-19 has exploited persistent challenges of widening inequalities and environmental damage that have not been adequately addressed, as well as accelerated the digitalisation process that comes with new sets of challenges, according to a new report by Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Policy Support Unit.
“The region has experienced rapid economic growth in the past 30 years, with 70% of the population rising to the well-off group while extreme poverty has almost been eliminated,” said APEC Policy Support Unit analyst Emmanuel San Andres who co-authored the report.
San Andres said this has come at the cost of environmental damage and climate change, which make our societies more vulnerable to diseases like COVID-19.
“Meanwhile, the distribution of economic benefits over the past three decades has been far from equal, and now the virus has mercilessly exposed the prevailing social and economic inequalities,” he said in a statement.
According to the recently issued APEC Regional Trends Analysis, more than 50% of the income gains over the past 30 years have gone to the richest quarter of the population, while the poorest quarter got only 4%.
“This has had important implications on the distribution of health, education and economic opportunities,” he said.
According to the report, inequality in access to digital tools and infrastructure has come to the fore as the pandemic necessitated a shift to conducting work, study and daily transactions online.
It highlighted the impact of inequalities on efforts to bring COVID-19 under control.
The report said while authorities have advised people to stay at home and practise social distancing to slow down the spread of the virus, this is not an option for the poor, many of whom live in cramped spaces and earn daily wages in the informal sector.
“Everyone is affected by the ongoing health and economic crisis, but not to the same magnitude,” explained APEC Policy Support Unit researcher and co-author of the report Rhea C. Hernando.
She said the poor, women, the youth, the low-skilled, the disabled, indigenous groups and other vulnerable sectors of society have to contend with a whole range of issues that are threatening their lives and livelihoods.
Another set of challenges come from the expansion of the digital economy.
While digital tools have benefitted small businesses in weathering the adverse impact of the pandemic, especially during strict lockdown measures, it brings challenges such as cybersecurity, digital fraud and job precariousness.
“Member economies should allocate the resources needed to build more reliable technological infrastructure and bridge the digital divide.
”Ensuring access to reskilling and upskilling opportunities will enable more people to participate in the economy and re-ignite innovation that will bring higher productivity and greater economic output,” said APEC Policy Support Unit director Denis Hew.
The APEC region is expected to contract in 2020 by 2.5%, equivalent to an output loss of around US$1.8 tri.
To build a more dynamic and resilient APEC region, the report recommended that member economies invest in green jobs and infrastructure, ensure equitable access to healthcare, infrastructure, technology, and education and skills development, as well as maximise the potential of the digital economy. – Nov 19, 2020