Pandemic will hold children back for generations, World Bank warns

The impact of the pandemic will be felt for generations to come, the World Bank has warned, because it will prevent people reaching their full potential across the board. 

Even before Covid-19, and despite decades of progress, a child born in a typical country could expect to achieve just 56 per cent of their potential, according to the bank’s Human Capital Index 2020. 

The index measures “human capital”, gauging the health, skills and knowledge an individual can attain and put to use as a productive member of society if they are completely healthy and fully educated. 

The pandemic’s impact on health services, alongside school closures and the wide economic devastation, risks disrupting almost all of the progress made on these measures made in the last decade, hitting not just individuals but entire economies.  

For example, children currently in school might see a drop of 2.5 percentage points on average in their human capital potential, the World Bank predicts – almost exactly the figure gained in the last decade. 

But the impacts are even more wide-reaching, the stark report warns. 

Previous data on crises from the 1918 Spanish Flu to the 2008 economic crash shows that even children in utero will be affected. For example, rising food insecurity, particularly in lower-income countries, leads to low birthweight and stunting, major indicators for long-term developmental and health problems.  

For example, when comparing the wages in 1960 of those who were in utero during the Spanish Flu, they had wages 2.2 per cent lower than comparable groups. 

“These losses build up over time,” the report warns, adding that the “indirect consequences of the pandemic may permanently weaken countries’ human capital for generations.” 

It goes on: “The results shown here are meant to inspire action and show that without remediation, an entire generation could be left behind.” 

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