The Social Impact Assessment of COVID-19 in Bosnia and Herzegovina
COVID-19 reveals Financial hardship and high levels of Mental Stress among the Population with Vulnerable groups hardest hit
The full scale of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis cannot be measured precisely at this point as the situation changes from day to day. Yet the household survey on the Social Impact of COVID-19 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, conducted initially in July 2020 and then repeated in November-December 2020, found that the situation in the country has deteriorated in many ways. The fact that the lives of the entire population and the fulfilment of the most fundamental human rights (in line with the international treaties and conventions to which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a signatory have been affected) is a major concern. The survey reveals that children, women and vulnerable groups of the population, such as single parents, persons with disability or chronic illness, the relatively poor, internally displaced persons, members of an ethnic minority in their place of return after the war, Roma, and LGBTQ+, have been hardest hit by this crisis. The survey also shows that institutional capacities to provide basic services to the population are weak.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina and around the world the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a major toll on the overall health of people. Unmet basic healthcare needs unrelated to COVID-19 were reported by 12 per cent of the respondents of the survey. Among the health issues, mental health was identified as one of the key areas where the population experienced challenges with 36 per cent of respondents saying that the pandemic situation had made them focus solely on their immediate family and family members. The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a major trauma trigger with 45 per cent of respondents expressing concern about their declining mental health, manifested through burnout, fear, anxiety and sleep deprivation.
A worsened financial situation was reported by 43.6 per cent of households of which 12 per cent experienced significant hardship. Hardest hit were the population groups who were already vulnerable with nearly half reporting a worsened financial situation compared to before the pandemic, while 13 per cent reported being significantly worse off. The financial situation resulted in reduction of food consumption in 28.6 per cent of families with children.
The lockdown has taken a disproportionate toll on women. In the labour market, those sectors with the highest rates of female employment experienced the heaviest job losses. Increased childcare needs during preschool and school closures have placed an even greater burden on mothers, including working mothers, with 60 per cent of women reporting a significant increase in domestic, care and emotional work since the onset of the pandemic. Single parents (both mothers and fathers) face an even greater challenge because many have been laid off or forced to quit their job in order to care for their children.
The survey findings reiterate that the pandemic has had a major impact on accessing education with the move to online impacting the most vulnerable children in particular. Of the surveyed households, 37.4 per cent found it extremely challenging to make the transition to e-schooling mode. This was mostly attributed to the lower quality of interaction with teachers online (42 per cent) and poorer organisation compared to learning in classrooms (24 per cent). The absence of or sharing of technological devices by multiple household members for teleworking, school and homework has proven particularly stressful.
The respondents mentioned that protective equipment, such as face masks, combined with social distancing rules have had a negative effect on their social ties and dynamics of socialising. They viewed the issue from the standpoint of human rights and democracy with 58 per cent of respondents concerned that their inability to meet in groups would have serious implications for their civil rights and liberties and for freedom of assembly.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 13 per cent of households reported an increase in the use of the Internet and online transactions such as online shopping, e-commerce and e-banking. This was especially the case amongst young people (18-30) in urban areas and in households with a net income on or above BAM 1,500. The rollout of digital public services was voiced as an important contributor to a higher quality of life and it should therefore be prioritised to support institutions in becoming more efficient, modern and resilient. In this way, citizens will be able to access services online without the need for an in-person visit to many offices and the service is faster and easier.
Institutional readiness in the country to respond quickly to the health crisis needs to be improved through better planning, stronger coordination and investment. The pandemic brought to the fore the urgency of strengthening the public service delivery systems, including health, education and social assistance, and the urgency of strengthening collaboration among these public service systems in order to ensure that all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including vulnerable groups, have equal access to all of the services during crisis and in regular times.
Years of underfunded social safety nets and continued unsecure employment have left vulnerable members of the population with few if any resources to fall back on in an emergency. Thus, to make up for the loss of resilience in both the public and private spheres, it is necessary to invest in robust social protection, social safety nets and public service providers and to ensure better targeting of social payments for children and families.
In the face of rapidly changing conditions and future uncertainty, UNDP and UNICEF remain committed to not only participating in and facilitating dialogue with all partners in the social sphere but also to taking action toward recovery solutions that leave no one behind.