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‘Pandemic exacerbates preexisting socioeconomic inequalities in Jordan’

UNDP, Tkiyet Um Ali assess impact of COVID-19 on most vulnerable households

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Director General of the National Aid Fund Omar Mashaqbeh (left), UNDP Jordan representative Sara Olivella (center), and Director General of Tkiyet Um Ali Samer Balka speak during an online event about the impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable families in Jordan. (Photo: Handout from UNDP)
AMMAN — Nationwide lockdowns and the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated preexisting socioeconomic inequalities in Jordan, United National Development Program (UNDP) Jordan representative Sara Olivella said on Wednesday.اضافة اعلان

“The impact of COVID-19 goes beyond the economy; it is at the heart of people’s lives,” Olivella added during an online event held today by the UNDP, along with Tkiyet Um Ali, to delve into the impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable families in Jordan. 

According to Olivella, understanding the trends is critical to guiding the nation’s response to the crisis. 

The discussion focused on key findings of two rounds of rapid impact assessments conducted by the organizations in April and November of 2020, surveying 1,600 households across Jordan.

The report found a spike in unemployment, indicating that between April and November of 2020, the number of respondents who reported to have lost their job rose from 27 percent to 36 percent. 

The majority of those who lost their jobs, who all qualify as “vulnerable” according to Tkiyet Um Ali’s database, are daily wage laborers. 

“We are primarily concerned with standing with these families and ensuring that they don’t slide into worse conditions,” said Hadram Alfayez, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation representative during the discussion. “We want to focus on avoiding full lockdowns and opening the industries ...” 

The fall in household incomes is a risk to these struggling families, according to the report, which found that electricity and food bills represent the greatest burden on the sampled families’ budgets, followed by gas, education, and clothing. In both survey rounds, a great majority of households reported to have seen an increase in food prices. 

Meanwhile, with increased reliance on online learning, access to internet services has become more essential. Yet, only about half of households reported to have access to the internet, significantly lower than the national average of 67 percent.                   

Since many of these families have little-to-no savings to cope with the lockdown periods, the report explained, they rely on support packages from the National Aid Fund (NAF), the Zakat Fund, Tkiyet Um Ali, and other organizations. 

“The spending by the NAF since the beginning of the pandemic is about half a billion Jordanian dinars,” said Omar Mashaqbeh, Director General of the NAF. “This large spending points to the significance of government contribution in an effort to limit the Kingdom’s poverty rates which have undoubtedly risen.”

Between 350,000 and 360,000 families currently benefit from NAF’s programs, according to Mashaqbeh.

In addition to these governmental initiatives, Tkiyet Um Ali, a local NGO geared towards eradicating hunger, is working to both directly protect vulnerable families, and to offer more long-term sustainable solutions.

“There were families who were struggling before the pandemic and the resources that are offered to these vulnerable families were limited,” explains Samer Balkar, director general of Tkiyet Um Ali during the conference. “But now there is another sector of struggling families coming in to share these limited resources.”

At the beginning of last year, the number of families that Tkiyet Um Ali classified as in-need of support were 20,000, but by the end of 2020 the number doubled, and the resources did not, according to Balkar.

Balkar suggests that the nation should move towards projects that promote self-sufficiency, in addition to the direct support the institutions are providing. This includes social enterprises, which are initiatives that have a social goal and invest in the public wellbeing. 

Although lockdowns have eased since the first wave of the pandemic in Jordan, the outlook remains negative. According to the report, 58 percent of participants felt pessimistic about the long-term impacts of the pandemic on their income and their livelihoods. This negative outlook increased to 71 percent in the second round of surveys.

“We expect an improvement in the economic situation in 2022, when most of Jordan’s residents take the COVID-19 vaccine, which will provide economic improvements in the work industries,” said Mashaqbeh. “Yet, we think that the impact of this crisis will continue for many years to come.”  

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