GENEVA - In Latin America, where much of the region has dealt with years of sluggish growth, the economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing millions more into poverty, says Alicia Bárcena, the head of the UN regional body for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

In an extensive interview with the UN communications chief, Melissa Fleming, Ms. Bárcena expressed concern at the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on indigenous people in the region, in terms of both the health risks they face; shared her fear that the wisdom and knowledge held by these communities is disappearing; and her dismay at rising inequality and poverty, following a period in which progress has been made on both fronts.

Alicia Bárcena said that, “this is a bad time for this region: we are the epicentre of the pandemic, and extreme poverty rates are going up. Poverty is expected to affect almost 230 million people in this region, and almost 95 million of those are going to be in extreme poverty. When you look at who these people are, we're talking mainly about indigenous peoples, and more than half are women, who are also very affected by the crisis.

We are also confronting a lack of leadership in the world, to focus on this ‘public bad’: we need leadership, we don't need each country focusing on its own problems. We need cooperation, we need collective action.”