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Latin America faces a “protracted crisis” after pandemic: UN

A UN report on Latin America and the Caribbean warns that almost 45 percent of young people live below the poverty level.

A United Nations report has said that Latin America and the Caribbean could face a “protracted social crisis” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) released this Thursday found that 56.5 million people in the region were affected by hunger. An estimated 45.4 percent of people 18 years of age or younger in Latin America lived in poverty.

“We are facing a cascade of crises that has exacerbated inequalities and deficiencies in the region,” said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ECLAC’s executive secretary, in a press release on Thursday. “This is not a time for incremental change, but for ambitious and transformative policies.”

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The report underscores the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with poverty rates remaining above pre-pandemic levels and approximately 13 percent of the region’s population living in extreme poverty.

Factors including high inflation and the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine will likely create a challenging outlook for governments seeking to reduce those numbers.

The report notes that rising prices could lead to an increase in malnutrition and a slowdown in economic growth. The report forecasts growth of 3.2% in the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) for 2022 and 1.4% in 2023, up from 6.5% in 2021.

Overall, an additional 12 million people face extreme poverty in the region since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“It has not been possible to reverse the impacts of the pandemic in terms of poverty and extreme poverty,” Salazar-Xirinachs said.

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The UN also highlighted the impacts of the pandemic on education, stating that educational establishments in the region were closed for an average of 70 weeks, compared to a global average of 41 weeks. The report said the region faced a “quiet but devastating” impact on education.

The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 24 in Latin America who do not study or are unemployed went from 22.3 percent in 2019 to 28.7 percent in 2020, according to the report.

The impacts are being felt most acutely among some marginalized groups, with the study stating that “poverty is considerably higher in indigenous and Afro-descendant populations,” as well as among children and women of certain age groups.

The virus has exacted a heavy toll in Latin American and Caribbean countries, with nearly 700,000 deaths in Brazil and more than 330,000 in Mexico, according to data firm Statista.

A report by Amnesty International and the Center for Economic and Social Rights found that “staggering inequality” was a leading factor in death rates across the region. While Latin America accounts for about 8.4 percent of the world’s population, it accounted for about 28 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

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