‘Millions facing starvation’ – Global political and business leaders on the economic impact of COVID-19

starving child

Christopher Alessi Digital Editor, World Economic Forum Alice Hazelton Programme Lead, Science and Society, World Economic Forum

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Christopher Alessi, Digital Editor, World Economic Forum & Alice Hazelton, Programme Lead, Science and Society, World Economic Forum


“Unless we open up our economy, we have millions facing starvation.”

That was the straightforward assessment of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on the impact of COVID-19 during a virtual meeting of the Forum’s COVID Action Platform on 20 May.

Khan explained: “In Pakistan, we have 25 million workers who are either [on] daily wages or get paid weekly or are self-employed. When we locked down, like the whole of the world, to stop the spread of the virus, all these people became unemployed. When we’re talking about 25 million workers, you’re talking about 25 million families and it has affected almost 120-150 million people…unless the men and women work, they cannot feed their families.”

Launched in March, the Forum’s platform aims to convene leaders from governments and the business community for collective action to protect people’s livelihoods, facilitate business continuity and mobilize support for a global response to COVID-19. To date, more than 1,500 people from more than 1,000 businesses and organizations have joined the platform.

To find the latest updates on the Platform, check out our recently-launched highlights blog.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

In addition to Khan, participants on this week’s webinar included: Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Netherlands; Werner Baumann, Chief Executive Officer, Bayer AG, Germany; and Meenakshi Gupta, Co-founder, Goonj, India.

Here are some key quotes from the session:

“Debt relief is the key issue…if the weakest link in the chain is not supported effectively, we will all be damaged.”

— Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Netherlands

“The response has to be global. There has to be a way of picking up countries that are struggling right now, especially in the developing world.”

—Imran Khan, Prime Minister, Pakistan

“When no vaccine is available, the name of the game is testing, testing, testing…[and] as we learn more about the virus, we are more and more concerned about how dangerous it really is.”

—Werner Baumann, CEO, Bayer

“In the past, India’s informal economy has been its strength – but in a lockdown situation where daily wages aren’t possible, it leaves many with no choice.”

—Meenakshi Gupta, Co-founder, Goonj

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