Resilience: key to confronting economic and social uncertainty

May 13, 2020 – The world is dealing with both a public health emergency and an economic crisis. Social distancing measures and stay at home orders intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 have paralyzed economies, with potentially long-term repurcussions. Much of the recent political conversation has centered on establishing proper sanitary measures and protections so that people can go back to work. In other words, the debate is around the economic cost that countries are willing to endure to prevent further contagion. Absent from the conversation is how the current economic model perpetuates inequalities and lacks the safety nets and social protections needed to endure a crisis of this sort. We should use this as an opportunity to rethink these harder questions and ask new ones about how to build more resilient societies.


The pandemic has profound and far-reaching impacts on the economy that are being felt disproportionately by poor people, both those who have lost their livelihoods and those working under risky conditions. In the United States, unemployment rates are higher among Latino and African American communities. Low income workers have a higher risk of contracting the virus while on the job, which can lead to a loss of employment and in turn, a loss of health insurance. In Mexico, unemployment has also increased dramatically. While each country’s response is based on its own capabilities and economic assistance programs, the challenge lies in ensuring that these programs reach vulnerable populations, reduce inequality, and circumvent corruption. We will pay special attention to the impact in Guatemala and in Honduras, where external credit through the World Bank was used, and in El Salvador, where five social organizations resigned from a committee in charge of managing pandemic-related debt programs, due to concerns about transparency. We also observe developments in Mexico, where the federal government is monitoring the approval of a constitutional reform that includes pensions for older adults, scholarships for students and subsidies for people with disabilities; while states adopt measures aimed at economic recovery and support for small businesses, but at the same time run the risk of leaving families unprotected.


Despite the economic crisis, we should not neglect the pandemic’s negative effect on the life and health of the population. The high number of people who have died helps us understand that the impact of COVID-19 is greater than those infected. People who suffer from illnesses or health complications are either choosing not to seek medical attention or not getting care due to a lack of resources. The gaps in health care are seen in the interruptions in routine childhood vaccination, and in a recent report from the United Nations Population Fund expressing doubts about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as previously predicted. Other clear and specific examples of the lack of attention to health needs is seen in the forced displacement of women, people with chronic diseases and among children in Guatemala.


Not surprisingly, the pandemic disproportionately affects people across the Americas of African descent, the Latino population in the United States, migrants and asylum seekers. Given the increasing number of infections in immigration detention centers, it is urgent that people be immediately released and that deportations be suspended, including the shocking continued deportation of unaccompanied children.   There are also some good practices that have come to light recently, such as an effort to recognize the technical and professional training of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, being implemented in Ciudad Juárez. These kinds of positive steps toward resiliency should be uplifted and maintained.


The pandemic’s impact on mental health is a growing hot spot that cannot be ignored. A recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation documents the mental health implications of COVID-19 on various groups in the United States. Social isolation is directly impacting people in Mexico, where 15% of the population has anxiety disorders. In El Salvador, repressive measures against those who leave their homes also affect the mental health of the population.


Addressing the pandemic requires responding to multiple needs. The economy cannot be reactivated at the expense of people’s health and life. Ensuring medical care for all and financial assistance to those who have lost livelihoods and are suffering from food insecurity should be the priority. Mental health is an important component of overall health and demands a comprehensive public response. Building resiliency and solidarity will be critical for individual and community recovery, especially as we face intersecting challenges, such as climate change.

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