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News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > Which step of the ladder? COVID-19 demands and International Development Reports-2020

Which step of the ladder? COVID-19 demands and International Development Reports-2020

IDS alum Ranjani Krishnamurthy (MP13) briefly analyses several key international development reports looking for new trends and strategies in a world with Covid-19.

Image: Istock
Image: Istock


The year 2020 will not be forgotten, the year when the pandemic of COVID-19 spread through the world. The pandemic was declared a medical disaster by the by the UN Research Institute of Social Development (UNRISD, 2020).  As per the World Health Organisation, 16,341,920 (COVID-19) cases were confirmed globally as on 28th July, 2020, and 650,805 people has died (WHO, 2020a). An outbreak in Wuhan province of Chine part had spread to most of the world due to a globalized and interconnected world by July, 2020. The impact of the pandemic stretches beyond health, to all spheres like poverty, livelihoods, education, child care services, mobility, reproductive and sexual rights, and violence against women and girls.  While global health records mention that more men than women have died due to COVID-19,  recent COVID-19 tests from urban areas in Mumbai India suggest that prevalence is higher amongst women than men, and higher in low income areas than middle class area (Barnagarwala, 2020). It is well possible that the trend changes when COVID-19 spread sets in, or that earlier data was based on admissions and not testing.

This article looks at the 2020 reports of international development agencies to see whether and how they discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways which they suggest to move forward.  Then an overall critique is presented.

International Development Reports, 2020

  • The World Development Report, 2020, of the World Bank posits that Global value chains account for almost 50% of global trade, and have helped poor countries grow and lifted several out of poverty.  It argues that these value chains are at risk due to trade conflicts, automation and slowing down of economy since 2008. The World Development Report, 2020 calls for coordinated policy amongst countries to support global value chains, and efforts to address barriers to trade and free markets (The World Bank, 2020). There is no reference to COVID-19 and how it could affect global value chains in the main messages of the report (ibid, 2020).
  • The United Nations Development Programme’s briefing on the forthcoming 2020 Human Development Report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has cast light on how our interconnected societies can face vulnerabilities anywhere until threats are addressed everywhere (HDRO, 2020). Moreover, these vulnerabilities are carving deeper cleavages in societies and may become ever more worrying in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.  The briefing observes that international development reports which shape policies focus on nature or on people, and that this dichotomy is not good. The 2020 report will draw on analysis of planetary systems and unequal world within a people-cantered human development (HDRO, 2020).
  • The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s State of Food Security and Nutrition 2020 Report observes that the world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.  It notes the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario. The report notes that the world is also not on track to achieving for child stunting and low birthweight, and for exclusive breastfeeding is on track only for the 2025 target. Adult obesity is on the rise.  The SOFI argues that COVID-19 is likely to increase malnutrition (undernutrition, overweight, obesity) of vulnerable population groups.  The SRFI 2020 points that healthy food diets require more than the present international poverty line of $1.99 per day per capita (purchasing power parity). It observes that shift towards healthy diets can contribute to the environment too. It argues that agricultural policies that are nutrition-sensitive is important, as well as measures to increase purchasing poor of vulnerable groups.
  • The World Health Organisation’s World Health Statistics, 2020, notes that the global outbreak of COVID-19 will have an unprecedented – and as yet unknown – effect on our work towards a healthier world (WHO, 2020b). The report argues that progress has been made in increasing healthy life expectancy and reducing under five and maternal mortality and incidences of HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria.  Yet, it notes, inequalities remain and more can be done on reducing maternal deaths (as women continue to die out of preventable causes) and communicable diseases.   The report notes that non communicable diseases, including obesity, are increasing worldwide. Universal Health coverage requires a well-trained health work force, and the availability of such a work force varies across regions and countries. Finally, the report calls for strengthening health regulation system nationally and across countries; in particular in the context of the pandemic


This brief analysis of the International Development Reports, 2020 suggests that three on four reports have commented on the possible implications of COVID-19.  Either on possible increase in number of poor, or on the interconnected nature of vulnerabilities or the as yet unknown impact.  The pathways forward have included “addressing all vulnerabilities everywhere”, balancing “people” and “nature” in development, enhancing “nutrition sensitive agriculture, purchasing power and healthy diets” and “strengthening universal health coverage and health regulation systems”. One agency has called for “global value chains” and “removal of restrictions” on trade and markets, not in the context of COVID.

While these are indeed valuable suggestions, it seems like “more of the same” development strategies and plugging in of gaps and inequities as they arise.  Value chains are important but controlled by marginalised or along with equal share in profits and outreach to excluded groups.  Value chains in agriculture, livestock and fisheries can go a long way to reduce vulnerability, along with efforts to conserve water, replenish land and place common property resources in the hands of marginalised.  As the pandemic has suggested, distress migration to urban areas has to stop. Right to livelihood and social development assets is a must.  Yet another issue which the COVID-19 has highlighted, is the need for strengthening regulation of private and public health, education and care sectors.  Further, bridging gaps in access to communication technology is a must with children from well off families accessing education, and others not able to access.  Universal Health Coverage has to allow for treatment of emerging viruses, otherwise catastrophic health expenditure is on the rise. Segregated residence across race, caste and class needs to stop, as it creates differential access to social infrastructure and economic opportunities.  Finally, purchasing power has to be increased directly and not through trickle down of economic growth.  Thus development itself needs to be rethought off.


Barnagarwala, Tabassum, 2020, Higher share in slums exposed to virus than in societies: Mumbai sero survey, The Indian Express, July 29th. Last accessed 29th July, 2020

UN Research Institute of Social Development (UNRISD), 2020, Our common Right to health, 8th April, 2020,, Last accessed 29th July, 2020 

World Health Organisation, 2020a, Coronavirus disease (COCID-19) Situation Report-190, 28th  July 2020
World Health Organisation, 2020b, World Health Statistics 2020, Monitoring Health for the SDGs, World Health Organisation, Geneva

The World Bank, 2020,  World Development Report 2020: Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains, The World Bank, Washington. 

Human Development Resource Office, 2020, 2020 Human Development Report to focus on meeting people’s aspirations in balance with the planet, 11th June, 2020

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