Published in January 2022, COVID-19 and International Development is a collaborative book from within the International Institute of Social Studies and includes contributions from various academics. Dr Elissaios Papyrakis is the editor of the book and author of several chapters. We spoke to him about the project.
'There is an important information gap that needs to be filled.'
Why did you compile this book?
‘Last year, I was searching for a book that discusses the multifaceted implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for international development from a social science perspective. Most of the material I could find consisted of short technical papers, mainly with a focus on medical aspects regarding transmission, treatment and prevention. It immediately became apparent to me that there was an important gap in the information available. Together with other colleagues at ISS, I felt an urgent need to prepare a book that highlights how the ongoing pandemic affects a wide range of international development processes and outcomes.
This book explores how the pandemic is influencing poverty and inequality trends, access to health and education and the livelihoods of vulnerable communities. Furthermore, it examines the precarity of informal employment, debates on globalization and de-globalization, actions on climate change and water governance and the structure of our global financial system.’
Why is it important to shed light on COVID-19's influence on international development?
'Our Dutch newspapers and news broadcasters pay much more attention to our own local worries and anxieties. Are the infection rates increasing in the Netherlands? When will we be allowed to attend large festivals and events without prior testing? Might the relaxation of COVID-19 rules be premature? This makes us lose sight of what is happening in the rest of the world.
And the truth is that we live in an ever-interconnected world, where isolationist reactions are unlikely to provide solutions to global health problems. Working alone will not prevent the further mutation of the virus or its rapid spread across national borders. It is important not to lose sight of what is happening beyond our own national boundaries. Not only for the sake of international solidarity, but also because local measures are not sufficient to address problems of such a scale.'
‘The book explores how the pandemic is influencing poverty and inequality trends and the livelihoods of vulnerable communities’
I assume the stories aren’t very positive. What are the most worrisome developments right now?
‘Indeed, the book presents a rather gloomy picture of how poorer nations, and especially the poorer segments of their populations, have been experiencing the pandemic. When we finalized the first draft of the book in April 2021, there were about 3 million deaths globally attributed to COVID-19.'
'This figure has now increased to about 5.8 million deaths and it keeps rising, especially due to the delay in vaccinations in low-income countries.
Although, for example, the vaccination rate in India has been on the rise with more than 50% of its population now fully vaccinated, the poorest people globally still lack access to vaccines and proper health care.
And we shouldn’t forget that for many developing economies, a post-COVID-19 economic recovery appears to be a long painful uphill battle. Think of tourism-dependent small island economies, for instance, such as Jamaica and Dominica in the Caribbean.'
Has COVID-19 mainly made existing problems worse, or have new problems and challenges arisen?
‘To a large extent, COVID-19 squeezed public budgets. And disruption in supply chains exacerbated a large number of existing developmental challenges.
What is new, however, is the reversal of development gains that were achieved with much dedicated effort in most parts of the developing world during the last few decades. The coronavirus crisis is halting progress towards meeting UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs). Since the start of this century, this is the first time that we see a rise in global poverty. According to projections, another 150 million people will fall into extreme poverty.
New challenges have also emerged. How do we deal with vaccine nationalism? How do we learn to quickly switch to a digital work and learning environment, especially in countries that lack the infrastructural and human capital resources?’
‘We live in an ever-interconnected world, where isolationist reactions are unlikely to provide solutions to global health problems.’
What are the key lessons from the book?
‘A key lesson that we draw across all chapters is that, while the pandemic has affected all countries around the world, low-income countries and individuals are much more vulnerable and suffer more from COVID-19’s health and socioeconomic impacts. Many of the global poor work in the informal economy and are, hence, especially vulnerable to restrictions in mobility. They have no means to buffer the economic shocks and income loss. They also have limited access to internet and information, no savings, no financial support from the state and no health insurance.
It is also evident that existing inequalities interlink with COVID-19 to intensify the vulnerabilities of these low-income communities. We all suffered from the pandemic, but we did not all suffer to the same extent. And for this reason, we, in wealthier parts of the world, should not lose sight of other places and individuals that have been less privileged than ourselves.’
You have co-authored the chapters about climate change and water. What are your most important findings in this area?
‘What we typically see during periods of economic hardship is that attention becomes diverted away from environmental problems. We also saw this during the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. More emphasis becomes placed on the economy, that is towards supporting employment and local firms, which is of course perfectly legitimate. However, during periods of recessions or the years that follow, governments often resort to budget cuts to balance their books. For this reason, there is a risk of reduced funding for climate change mitigation and adaption, as well as for water security.
In terms of macroeconomic risk management, limited access to water and accelerated global warming simply make the occurrence of future pandemics more likely.’
COVID-19 and international development - interview with Elissaios Papyrakis
‘What we typically see during periods of economic hardship is that attention becomes diverted away from environmental problems’
The book will be launched on 17 March during at event at ISS. What can people expect during this Research InSightS LIVE event?
'Research InSightS LIVE is about sharing our knowledge with a wider audience and stimulating societal debate and reflection. We welcome everybody to join us for this hybrid event, either by coming to Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam or by watching the event online.
During the event, my colleagues Matthias Rieger, Georgina Gomez and Syed Mansoob Murshed and myself will discuss various chapters of the book. We will talk with several external guests from all over the world about the topics addressed in the publication.
Together, we will share stories about the impact of COVID-19 across the globe and reflect on the many ‘faces’ of the pandemic. We will stimulate the audience to engage in our discussions and offer them artistic intermezzos and new perspectives. You can already register if you'd like to join us on March 17 (15:30-17:00 CET)!'