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For the first time in six decades, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) did not hold its Annual Meeting of Governors in 2020. As the city of Barranquilla, in Colombia, prepared to receive the leaders of the member countries, the pandemic loomed in Latin America and the Caribbean. A year later, the delegations they meet since this Wednesday, virtually, to discuss how to get out of the crossroads left by the new coronavirus in the region.
“This meeting represents a turning point, as it offers us a critical opportunity to reflect on the worst socioeconomic crisis in our 26 borrowing member countries in the last 100 years,” said IDB President Mauricio J. Claver-Carone in a press conference from Barranquilla. “It is also an opportunity to make the decision to face these unprecedented challenges together and move towards inclusive and sustainable recovery.”
But how to achieve it in the most unequal region of the world? That was one of the questions that the experts tried to solve in one of the eight sessions of this annual meeting that will last until this Sunday. “Covid-19 puts us in a lost decade. However, avoiding this loss is possible, ”said James Scriven, who heads IDB Invest, the IDB group’s arm for the private sector. “Inclusion is the basis for the region to generate real opportunities for growth and social cohesion,” he added in this discussion where the challenges posed by the crisis for social services were addressed.
Indeed, the impact of covid-19 on these services for Latin America and the Caribbean has been disproportionate with respect to other areas. For example, according to Unicef data, Latin American countries have had the longest school closings in the world, with an average of 158 days compared to the global average of 95 days.
For Lucia Dellagnelo, president of the Inovação Center for Brazilian Education, the region “cannot afford to miss this opportunity to redesign education systems to make them more inclusive and relevant.” According to the expert, during the pandemic, education has used technology in an unequal and inappropriate way. “Students from low-income families do not have access to the internet in their schools or at home. It is a public policy problem ”, he adds. “We should make public schools the place in the community where everyone can have access to technology.”
Latin American countries have had the longest school closings in the world, with an average of 158 days compared to the global average of 95 days
Another unequal impact of the crisis is the job decline, with Latin American women being the ones who have lost the most jobs and also those who are recovering them at a slower pace. “When one looks at our organizations, both public and private,” said Cecilia Gordano, general manager of the Mercer consultancy for Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, “he finds inequalities and inequalities not only by gender, but also by socioeconomic level, by generation, religion. and ethnicity ”. “We are losing value by not having the demographics of our countries represented as they are, not only because of a social issue, but also because of a business issue,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, the IDB has allocated more than $ 1 billion to reformulate social services in the region. This funding responds to the need to “re-evaluate the social contract” that, according to Juliana Londono-Velez, a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), the pandemic has brought. For the specialist, the challenge now is to stabilize public finances. “It is necessary to have a tax reform that increases collection progressively and promotes equity. I would like us to reach a society where tax justice prevails, where large corporations and wealthier individuals pay fairer taxes in order to have a State that is more supportive of the vulnerable ”.
Perhaps one of the most painful consequences of Latin American inequalities is the high number of deaths from covid-19. According to Cepal, with only 8.4% of the world’s population, Latin America and the Caribbean has recorded nearly 27% of deaths globally. Walter Suárez, executive director of Kaiser Permanente, said that “there is a lot of inequality, measured in different dimensions such as access to health services, the disparity in the quality of these services in the distribution of morbidity and mortality in different population groups.” “We have to prioritize the different social determinants of health, such as lack of housing, food, transportation, education, environmental security and social connections,” he warned.
The future is creative
The orange economy is one of the hardest hit by the crisis in the region. According an IDB survey, 52% of creative companies lowered their sales by more than 80%, with cultural and entertainment activities being the most affected. Despite these losses, they have rapidly increased their digital offering, with great potential to contribute to economic reactivation.
With only 8.4% of the world’s population, Latin America and the Caribbean has recorded nearly 27% of deaths from this virus
“We want Latin America and the Caribbean to continue being that great world center of creativity and innovation based on culture,” said Iván Duque, president of Colombia, host country of the meeting in one of the opening sessions. “The orange economy is no longer an expectation or a possibility, it is a reality with a fundamental contribution to the region’s GDP in job creation and also in exportable capacity.”
For his part, the president of the IDB, Claver-Carone, highlighted the high growth of these Latin American industries, led by video games, a sector that is increasing at higher rates than in Asia. “We want the region, with its unmatched human capital, to be a global leader in creating creative products and services. We are committed to being part of that history because we believe in the future of Latin America and the Caribbean and we believe that it is the most creative ”.
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