Social Implications of COVID-19 on Mauritius
Summary of presentations and discussions
21 January 2021
Recording of the Webinar
Dr. Pierre Fallavier, Senior Development Coordination Advisor to the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations (UNRC) for Mauritius, opened the session by welcoming everybody present. This was the fourth webinar in the series of events organised concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous webinars have been on Data Sources and Data Collection efforts on COVID-19, Macroeconomic Implications of COVID-19 and Sustainable Pathways to COVID-19 Recovery.
COVID-19 impacts on people with disabilities
Mrs. Danielle Wong Ng O.S.K. is President of the Voice of Disabled People International. She elaborated on how the pandemic and lockdown had impacted the lives of people with disabilities. The pandemic revealed the structural cracks in the system, where people with disabilities had to face more economic struggles. She emphasised the need to build a more inclusive and accessible society. Mrs. Wong Ng mentioned that a Disability Rights Bill, which was proposed by Government in 2019 but has still not been presented to the national assembly, can bring a holistic approach to dealing with people with disabilities. The lockdown imposed as a result of COVID-19 was particularly difficult for those with disabilities. They were not often getting the necessary care while they were at home, due to the lockdown or social distancing measures. This led to stressful situations, and even depression in some cases. As Chairman of the Training and Employment for Disabled Persons, she advocated for the rights to equal employment for disabled persons. She also mentioned that she proposed to have the Mauritian Public Procurement Act modified to introduce a clause requesting for the social value from bidders, to promote employment of disabled persons, as well as the need for targets on the recruitment of those with disabilities in the public sector.
Both the World Bank and the UNRC felt concerned with the situation of people with disabilities. Hence, they suggested a follow-up meeting with Mrs Wong Ng to discuss any further support needed from their organisation for the disabled community to better cope with the pandemic situation.
Dr. Aveeraj Peedoly, Research Coordinator at the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council, talked about the incidence of domestic violence and the distribution of care and domestic responsibilities by gender, based on the findings of a recently completed study. He highlighted some findings from the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment study conducted in collaboration with the UNDP, complemented with a survey on households in the poorest community in Mauritius. He showed how, during the lockdown, households in extreme poverty endured more domestic violence than other households. Female respondents were at greater risk of being victims of domestic violence than their male counterparts, although these cases are not always reported to the authorities. He quoted a respondent “Home under lockdown is like a pressure cooker, with all the ingredients for violence to erupt anytime”, which shows how the lockdown has stretched the emotional, economic and social ability to cope with pressures. The lockdown set in motion several transitional behaviors and practices to adjust to confinement. Generally, both women and men reported spending more time than usual on domestic and care responsibilities, leisure, personal and/or household activities. However, several traditional gendered roles, especially domestic chores, remained skewed towards women. Similarly, female respondents have tended to outwork their male counterparts in helping the kids in their education. 38 % of female respondents have spent more time with their kids’ education as compared to their male counterparts (25%).
Mr. Sanjeev Bhonoo, Statistician at Statistics Mauritius, shared more insights from the six rounds of surveys carried out by the department. The results show that though there was an increase in employed people in September 2020 as compared to May 2020 (+100,900), the number of unemployed people had also risen (+16,400). This caused a rise in the unemployment rate by 0.7%. Due to the lockdown, about 8 in 10 households reported having difficulty meeting their household expenses with their current monthly income. 39% of households had difficulty in paying their electricity bills, while 30% had the same problem with their water bills. It is also to be noted that around 34% of households surveyed in September reported a reduction in their income as compared to before the pandemic.
Mr. Marco Ranzani, Economist at the World Bank, further analysed the RCMPHS results. He mentioned that employment has partially bounced back, relative to 2020 Q1. However, unemployment is still above pre-pandemic levels, particularly among men, while there are more inactive women. He showed that the tourism, transport and trade sectors contributed significantly to the unemployment rate going up. The informal sector contributed largely to the loss of jobs. He also specified that employment in traditional sectors and among the informal sector is larger among the poor and the bottom 40%. Going forward, he suggested that individuals who have lost their job and those who will likely lose their job as firms will continue to face liquidity constraints over the coming months will need to be supported. He advised that social protection programs might be expanded to the poor and those in the bottom 40%. Mr. Ranzani also suggested considering re-employment and re-skilling to help low-skill workers navigate the crisis.
Mr. Erik von Uexkull, Country Representative of the World Bank, facilitated the plenary session by mentioning that the big wave of shock due to the lockdown is slowly wearing out and we are now seeing the worrisome effects of the pandemic emerging. The question of inequality and exclusion, though not directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, has to be addressed, to ensure that people with disabilities, poor people or women are not left behind. Although the young people also demand particular actions. Although the firefighting period has elapsed now, we have to address the root causes of exclusion that are affecting these groups.
Ms. Josheena Naggea, a Doctoral student at Stanford University, briefly talked about how COVID-19 and the Wakashio oil spill impacted fisheries, tourism and other coastal sectors in Mauritius. While some villages were recovering after the lockdown, the oil spill put them at risk. Only 50% were considered fully employed in stable positions, resulting in the accumulation of debts and inability to pay back with spent savings. She also mentioned that there were indications of increased stress, anxiety and family tension among the surveyed people. She mentioned that the full analysis of the survey will be presented in another session.
Mr. Arvind Kureeman, Senior Analytics Manager at International Economics Consulting, by thanking everybody present for their contributions. He welcomed all participants to register themselves to the Research Platform to be able to participate more actively in sharing contents and experiences. He also appealed to the audience to share data that they have been collecting, to allow the research community to do further reporting and analysis.
Downloads of the Presentations
Dr Pierre Fallavier, Senior Development Coordination Adviser to the Resident Coordinator, United Nations Resident Coordinator’s office, Mauritius
Planner and social scientist with 20-year experience in development and humanitarian research, policy and programming for aid agencies, government, civil society and academia in fragile and conflict settings. Designs, leads, and evaluates development programs and crises responses, formulates and assesses social protection, poverty reduction, and disaster-risk management strategies and projects, leads policy research. In previous position, he worked with the World Bank, UN-Habitat and UNICEF, and as a teaching assistant at MIT.
Danielle Wong C.S.K., President, Voice of Disabled People International, Mauritius
Danielle holds a Maitrise en droit international prive from the Université de Paris II. She was director of MEXA (Mauritius Export Association) for 33 years and contributed significantly to the industrial sector. She has served as member of various boards in Mauritius, namely, Employee Welfare Fund, Voice of Disabled People International, National Productivity and Competitiveness Council, National Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, Global Rainbow Foundation and Training and Employment for Disabled persons Board. She was up to March 2020 the Project Consultant for Celero Group Port agent & Logistics Services.
Danielle is also wheelchair bound for the past 20 years.
Dr A. S. Peedoly, Research Coordinator, Mauritius Research and Innovation Council
Dr Aveeraj Peedoly currently serves as Research Coordinator at the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council where he is responsible for the Applied Social Research and Social Innovation Portfolio. He is a Warwick graduate in Sociology with Social Policy and holds a PhD in Development Studies. He contributed to the UNDP SEIA Project Team as national Social Development Consultant.
Sanjev Bhonoo, Statistician, Statistics Mauritius
Sanjeev is an expert in the computation of consumer price index and in the conduct and analysis of Household Budget Surveys. He has contributed in the compilation of Producer Price Index; Price collection for Consumer Price Index, Export and Import Price Index. He has worked on the Analysis of labour statistics, Tourism Statistics, Industrial Statistics, Social Security Statistics and Elderly, minimum wage and ageing population analysis
Marco Ranzani, Economist, World Bank
Marco is an economist in the Poverty and Equity Global Practice of the World Bank. His research focuses on labor markets, economic growth, and distributional analysis across a diverse range of developing countries. Previously, he was a researcher at Understanding Children Work, an inter-agency research cooperation initiative involving the International Labour Organization, UNICEF and the World Bank, and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Bergamo, Italy. He holds a BA in Economics and a PhD in Public Economics from the Catholic University of Milan, Italy.
Erik von Uexkull, World Bank Country Representative, Mauritius and Seychelles
Erik is the World Bank's Country Representative and Senior Economist for Mauritius and Seychelles, with residence in Mauritius. His previous positions at the World Bank include Senior Economist with the Investment Policy and Promotion team and Country Economist for Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Paul Baker, Chief Executive, International Economics
Paul is the founder and CEO of International Economics Consulting Ltd., and currently manages the company’s research activities and heads its consultancy arm. Paul has been an economist for international organisations – WEF, World Bank, European Commission, ITC UNCTAD/WTO, ADB, as well as Ministries from G20 and emerging market governments. He has held leading roles as a trade policy and negotiations adviser in over 70 countries worldwide. Paul has been named Global Leader in Trade & Customs – Economists & Anti-Dumping Consultants by Who’s Who Legal for the last 5 consecutive years. He currently serves as a Board Member of UNESCAP’s Trade Intelligence Negotiation Advisor and the largest Asia-Pacific Trade Research Network: ARTNET. He is a visiting professor at the College of Europe.