A coronavirus catastrophe for the developing world

A coronavirus catastrophe for the developing world

As Europe inches past the peak of COVID-19 deaths and the US slowly approaches it, many poorer countries are now staring into an abyss. As bad as the coronavirus crisis is likely to be in the world's wealthiest nations, the public health and economic blow to less affluent ones, often referred to as "developing countries," could be drastically worse. Here's why:


First, their healthcare systems are generally weaker. They have less testing capability, fewer hospital beds, and lower stocks of ventilators and other specialized equipment. There are also far fewer doctors per capita. Among the top 25 health systems in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Global Health Security Index, there are just four in emerging market economies. (Can you guess which they are? Answer below the Hard Numbers at the bottom.)

We've already seen how quickly the disease has challenged and in some cases overwhelmed even advanced healthcare systems in major European and American cities. We can expect things to be worse in countries with fewer resources.

Second, the population of working poor or people living in poverty is higher. In countries where people's daily bread is tied so closely to daily work, it's much more difficult to simply order everyone to stay home or to enforce social distancing in densely populated urban slums. In India and Brazil, for example, between a fifth and a quarter of the urban population lives in slums, according to the World Bank. In Nigeria, the figure is 50 percent. Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, it can soar above 70 percent. Shanty towns are less than ideal for social distancing.

Third, the crisis' economic blow is likely to be even greater in developing countries, where critical revenues from commodity exports, tourism, and remittances are already plummeting as demand from the US, EU, and (to a lesser extent) China collapses. And while governments and central banks in the rich world can uncork stimulus packages that run into the trillions of dollars, developing countries have much less financial firepower, and their borrowing costs are also higher. Investors have already pulled $90 billion out of emerging markets since mid-January.

The tragedy of it: Developing countries have been the biggest beneficiaries of global economic growth over the past 20 years. It's there that we saw the emergence of a new global middle class. Even after the global financial crisis, the world's middle income countries mostly came roaring back. Now the coronavirus pandemic is poised to swing a (spiked) wrecking ball through all of that.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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More than 930 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have already been administered globally, and another 1 billion more are expected to be manufactured by the end of May. Most of the manufacturing is concentrated in a small group of countries. While some — like China, for instance — are exporting roughly half of the shots they make, others — mainly the US — are keeping most of the supply for domestic use. Meanwhile, export controls have been a particularly thorny issue in the European Union and India, where governments have come under intense pressure to stop sending vaccines to other parts of the world amid sluggish rollouts at home. We take a look at what the world's top manufacturers are doing with the vaccines they are producing.

Ian Bremmer explains how a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summer of 1969, set the conservation movement ablaze in the United States. A TIME Magazine article about the fire led to the Clean Water Act, creation of the EPA, and the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970. Over 50 years later, citizens of the world agree that climate change is a global emergency. But how can nations come together to find solutions that are truly attainable?

Watch the GZERO World episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

US President Joe Biden's highly anticipated two-day climate summit opens on Thursday, when dozens of world leaders and bigshot CEOs will gather (virtually) to try to save the planet. Above all, the US is looking to showcase the idea that "America is back" on climate change. But will other countries buy it?

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55: EU governments on Wednesday reached a deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. The commitment is in line with the bloc's broader goal of going carbon-neutral by 2050.

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