Co-author: Kuanlin Lu
On World Population Day this year, the tourism industry has taken note that while some parts of the world appear to be recovering from the COVID-19, others are still very much entrenched in the fight against the pandemic. As the COVID-19 virus has (as of June 2021) infected 179 million people globally and contributed to 3.9 million deaths (as reported by the World Health Organization), the pandemic continues to compromise health care systems. On a deeper level, the response to the pandemic has exposed deep rooted social and economic inequities.
For two years, the pandemic has been having devastating economic effects on developing countries, especially those dependent on tourism and overseas visitors. According to a recent report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the sharp decline in international tourism could overall cost the global economy between $1.7 and $2.4 trillion this year, depending on the actual rollout of vaccines that currently affects emerging countries.
World Population Day is celebrated every year on July 11th with an objective to raise awareness of population issues across the globe. It was established by the then-Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. By resolution 45/216 of December 1990, the United Nations General Assembly decided to continue observing World Population Day to enhance awareness of population issues, including their relationship to the environment and development. Since 1990, the world’s population has increased from about 5.3 billion to 7.7 billion in 2019, and is projected to exceed 9.7 billion by 2050. All the while, population and development issues surrounding rights, health and choices have gained prominence in the public debate. Some of these challenges include:
- poverty eradication
- gender equality
- universal health coverage (including reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health)
- access to family planning and voluntary modern contraception.
Recent demographic trends at a global level have also resulted in the quick expansion of urbanization and accelerating migration due to the increased conflicts over resources. Many people risk their lives to move to another country seeking asylum and an environment for better health care, education and employment opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, these people are looking for a safer and stable home.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, gender-based violence increased under lockdown as did the risk of child marriage and female genital mutilation, according to the United Nations. In its most recent flagship report State of World Population 2021 “My Body is My Own,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) underlines how only about half of adolescent girls and women in developing countries can make their own decisions that underpin bodily autonomy and integrity. With health systems under huge pressure at a global level, reproductive and maternal health was often put aside during the pandemic. A World Health Organization (WHO) survey showed how family planning services was one the most extensively disrupted health services globally, and a medical review found increases in maternal deaths and stillbirths since the pandemic began, with great disparity between high and low-resource countries.
Many people also lost their jobs amid these challenging times, leading to the destabilization of their financial status and widening the gap between the poor and the rich. Significant numbers of women also left the labor force as caregiving responsibilities for children learning remotely or for homebound older people increased, thus destabilized their finance situations. Overall, the crash in tourism is expected to cause a 5.5% increase in unemployment for unskilled labor on average. The UNWTO estimates that between 100 million and 120 million direct tourism jobs are at stake, many of them belonging to young people, women and informal workers.
Beyond raising awareness around World Population Day, urgent action must be taken for the betterment of all the world’s citizens.
Improve education opportunities for all.
Around the world, nearly 90% of the population has completed primary education in 2020, though only 39% of the countries have the same number of girls enrolled in secondary education as boys. It is urgent and crucial to ensure that the children, especially girls in any country, have the equal rights to get access to quality education.
Achieve universal health coverage.
It is essential to ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them. For a community and a country to thrive, people must be able to get access to healthcare, clean water and to live under a stable economic and social support system. This includes upholding the rights and dignity of older citizens. The pandemic has wreaked a devastating toll on this generation and highlighted the importance to improve health care and social services for the world’s elders.
Empower people and eliminate barriers to modern contraception
It is crucial to educate and raise awareness about bodily autonomy and self-determination from an early age to establish a common understanding around these concepts. Limited access to sexual and reproductive health, including unmet need for modern contraception are predicted to result in high rates of unplanned pregnancies and perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
With just 10% of the world’s population fully vaccinated according to Our World in Data, UNCTAD predicts a 75% reduction in tourist arrivals in countries with low vaccination rates this year, compared with a 37% reduction in countries with more than 50% of their population vaccinated. Overall, experts see international tourism returning to 2019 levels only in 2024 or later. On World Population Day, Solimar International therefore echoes the statement of UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili who reminds us all that “tourism is a lifeline for millions, and advancing vaccinations to protect communities and support tourism’s safe restart is critical to the recovery of jobs and generation of much-needed resources, especially in developing countries”.