The winners and losers with Covid-19

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The winners and losers with Covid-19

This Covid-19 crisis is not making everyone equal. Like the financial crisis of 2008, there are winners and losers. Husna Rizvi writes about stories of society’s losers.


Forced from home by US airstrikes in the Lower Shabelle region, a camp for displaced persons near Mogadishu, Somalia, March 2020.

Bad tech

Silicon Valley firms are quick to find opportunities. Palantir is a firm that analyses data to help US immigration to find and catch undocumented people. The UK government contracted Palantir to do data-mining for its National Health Service.

Amazon, the online shopping firm, is making a lot of money. Customers are spending $11,000 a second on its products and services. Founder Jeff Bezos’ earned an extra $24 billion in the first quarter of 2020. This is the same as the GDP of Papua New Guinea, a country of nine million people. The company does not allow its workers in California to take even unpaid time off but is making money from contracts with the US and UK governments to deliver home test kits.

Amazon is using some of the profits to develop worker-surveillance software. There are reports that Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, has heatmapping technology to find out when its workers meet in groups and predict when they are perhaps forming a union.

Companies also want software that can monitor employees working from home. Adam Satariano of The New York Times says there are programs that monitor the words we type, take pictures with our webcams, and tell managers who is ‘spending too much time on Facebook and not enough on Excel’. The software maker Hubstaff says this respects privacy because workers know they are watched. They call this new surveillance ‘smart’ ways to adapt to the economy after the pandemic, putting the Silicon Valley surveillance model in our everyday lives.

More military spending

On 23 March 2020, UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez called for a global ceasefire because of the pandemic. He said that the dangers of the virus show the madness of war. The public faces this very big health threat and the military is fighting to show it is still important. The military around the world is spending more now than before but they are asking for more money.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says global military expenditure was $1.9 trillion in 2019. The 2020 Global Aerospace and Defence Industry Outlook report from Deloitte says this will increase in the coming year by three to four per cent.

This is bad for Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition agreed to a ceasefire in March but it doubled its military offensive in April 2020. The Yemen Data Project recorded at least 34 air raids with up to 164 individual airstrikes from 16 to 23 April – a 31-per-cent increase in bombings since the ceasefire.

The UK government says it supports Gutierrez’s call for a ceasefire but it is allowing BAE Systems cargo flights from a war plane factory in England to Riyadh.

They could spend the money for war toys on better things. Campaign Against Arms Trade says that just the UK’s defence budget increase since 2015 is enough to pay the annual salaries of 150,000 nurses, and the cost of buying ten 138 F-35 fighter jets is enough to buy 30,000 ventilators.

And the risk of Covid-19 is high in the military. Reuters said that two fleets, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the French aircraft-carrier Charles de Gaulle, both had more than 1,000 Covid-19 cases in March.

But military offensives continue. The Intercept said that in the first four months of 2020, US Africa Command conducted more airstrikes in Somalia than during all of Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

A good time for big mining

The London Mining Network says the government in the Philippines is arresting environmental activists for breaking lockdown rules but mining companies continue to work. Government offices are closed but they are giving new mining licences.

There are very few shareholder meetings and so there is little monitoring of many of the bigger mining companies. There are some Annual General Meetings with only two shareholders and with little opportunity to question destructive projects.

Colombia Solidarity Campaign researcher Diana Salazar says thousands of Indigenous Wayuu children are living in areas with little water near Cerrejon. This is a very big coal mine run by BHP, Glencore, and Anglo American. It uses a lot of water.

Diana Salazar told The Ecologist, ‘During the crisis the company delivers food parcels, but it plans to start work again where there are very few health facilities and there is a big risk of Covid-19 for indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.’

Anglo American also made 300 applications to explore for gold and other minerals in indigenous territories in the Brazilian Amazon. There are record levels of deforestation in the Amazon during the pandemic.

More Hunger

Schools are shut during lockdown and this is bad for the World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP supports about 37 countries in lunch delivery programmmes for children from poor families who would go hungry. The WFP says that more than 300 million children from poor families are losing meals because schools are shut.

This puts extra pressure on regions affected by climate-related hunger, including Guatemala. Oxfam says it has lost almost 80 per cent of its maize. In Zimbabwe droughts and inflation mean that the rural poor have no work.

Hilal Elver is a UN Rapporteur on the right to food. Hilal visited Zimbabwe in 2019 and told ITV news, ‘Through climate change, droughts are longer, deeper and much more serious and they come very often.’ But they have delayed talks on climate (COP 26) until 2021.

Hunger is worse in the Global North too. TV Channel 4 says that in the UK, 96 per cent of head teachers said that the voucher scheme to give free school meals to children in lockdown was not working. It is worth £15 ($18.5) per child, per week and over one million poor families need it.

One head teacher from South London even put £5,000 ($6,170) on his own credit card to pay for food at a supermarket because he ‘didn’t want his pupils to starve’.

In the US, the world’s richest nation and the epicentre of Covid-19, Native Americans in Navajo territory must drive about three hours to go to food stores. This includes the elderly who have to self-isolate. NPR says if the Navajo Nation was a state it would have the highest number coronavirus cases per person after New York.

Restaurants, schools, and hotels are shut and so industrial farms are finding it very difficult to sell their food. They are throwing away a big number of crops. The Dairy Farmers of America say that farms were throwing away 140 million litres of milk each day in April, and a chicken farm was smashing 750,000 eggs every week.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)