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New ESCWA brief: 8.3 million people will fall into poverty in the Arab region due to COVID-19

Beirut, Lebanon

Beirut, 1 April 2020--An additional 8.3 million people will fall into poverty in the Arab region, according to a new policy brief issued today by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on the impact of COVID-19 (attached). Increased poverty could raise the number of undernourished people by some 2 million.
With today’s estimates, a total of 101.4 million people in the region would be classified as poor, and 52 million as undernourished.
“The consequences of this crisis will be particularly severe on vulnerable groups, especially women and young adults, and those working in the informal sector who have no access to social protection and unemployment insurance,” said ESCWA Executive Secretary, Rola Dashti.
Indeed, the lack of social protection floors and non-inclusive social protection schemes in some Arab countries are bound to leave the most vulnerable with no means to make it through the pandemic – one that disrupts global food supplies, impacting food security in many Arab countries because of their high dependence on food imports.
Meanwhile, the region is losing around $60 billion annually owing to food loss and waste. A reduction of food loss and waste by 50% would increase household income by some $20 billion. The region would significantly improve food availability, reduce food imports and improve its trade balance in the process.
“Arab Governments must ensure a swift emergency response to protect their people from falling into poverty and food insecurity owing to the impact of COVID-19,” Dashti stressed. “The regional emergency response must support national efforts and mobilize resources and expertise to protect the poor and vulnerable,” she added.

The ESCWA Executive Secretary had called earlier to establish a regional social solidarity fund that supports vulnerable countries. A first policy brief issued by ESCWA had also highlighted the major economic losses to be incurred by the Arab region due to COVID-19.


About ESCWA:
One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.


For more information:
- Ms. Maryam Sleiman, Public Information Assistant, +961-81-769-888; email:
- Ms. Rania Harb, Public Information Assistant, +961-70-008-879; email: