The COVID-19 crisis is hitting hard on all of human development’s constitutive elements: income (with the largest contraction in economic activity since the Great Depression), health (directly causing a death toll over 300,000 and indirectly leading potentially to an additional 6,000 child deaths every day from preventable causes over the next 6 months) and education (with effective out-of-school rates – meaning, accounting for the inability to access the internet – in primary education expected to drop to the levels of actual rates of the mid-1980s levels). This, not counting less visible indirect effects, including increased domestic violence, yet to be fully documented.

This report takes a capabilities approach to document the severity of the unfolding human development crisis. Such an approach implies an evaluative framework to assess the crisis and shape the policy response that emphasizes the potential for people to be and do what they aspire in life as opposed to material resources or economic activity. To assess the crisis, the note draws from original simulations that are based on an adjusted Human Development Index—with the education dimension modified to reflect the effects of school closures and mitigation measures—and that incorporate current projections of gross national income (GNI) per capita for 2020.

The report also highlights the importance of collective action—at the community, country and global levels. And the response to this crisis is showing how people around the world are responding collectively. The adoption of social distancing behaviour—which in some cases started before formal policies were put in place—could not possibly be fully enforced. It depended on the voluntary cooperation of billions of people. And it was done in response to a shared global risk that brought to the fore as a priority something other than having economies grow more rapidly. If we needed proof of concept that humanity can respond collectively to a shared global challenge, we are now living through it.

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