Providing food assistance to most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kaya, Burkina Faso

Photo: Providing food assistance to most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kaya, Burkina FasoWFP/Mahamady Ouedraogo

COVID-19 in Vulnerable States

The pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities and inequalities within countries, exposing deep vulnerabilities in whole groups of countries, especially the ones least able to respond to external shocks. 

For many of these most vulnerable countries, especially the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the events of 2020 confirmed just how interconnected the world has become – and how fragile we are when that interconnectedness is taken away. 

From Afghanistan to Trinidad and Tobago to Zimbabwe, the pandemic shut borders. National emergencies were declared, and restrictions in the movement of people and goods were enforced.  

The virus has spread to almost every country in the world, with few exceptions.  

Spared the sickness but not the pandemic

Months into the pandemic, the majority of countries with no confirmed cases were the SIDS, including Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.   

Many of the characteristics of SIDS that usually present development challenges, especially their remoteness and low population densities, were among the traits that kept them safe from the virus.  

But they are still not safe from the pandemic, because in a highly globalised and interconnected world, even countries with few or no incidences of COVID-19 are feeling the economic, social and political aftershocks.   

Global Recession hits disproportionately in Vulnerable States

The International Monetary Fund projected a deep global recession with a 5% drop in world GDP. But for smaller economies, the predicted contraction is almost 8% - double that of larger or more resilient economies.   

Tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of jobs have already been lost.   

SIDS that depend on tourism – even those with no cases of COVID-19 – stand by with empty hotels and deserted beaches, waiting for visitors to return.   

According to the World Bank, countries that rely on family members to send money home each month were set to lose remittances of US$110 billion in 2020. This would mean 800 million people, most of them in Least Developed Countries, unable to meet their basic needs, just as food prices rise and international supply chains lie crippled by the pandemic.   

The pandemic is impacting the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS disproportionately with devastating impacts on human health, economies, education and other sectors. 

Most of the vulnerable states lack sufficient domestic financial resources to cope, and when combined with high levels of debt and fragile health systems, the challenge is urgent. 


Due to COVID-19, LDCs are facing both a health crisis and significant economic slow-down. These multi-faceted shocks limit fiscal space to respond to the pandemic.

The number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 are rising in LLDCs. European and Central Asian LLDCs are the most impacted in terms of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

SIDS are highly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 both to the potentially devastating impacts on human health and to the broader social and economic effects of the virus and containment policies.

COVID-19 pandemic deepens sense of crisis around the world

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged us into a global health, economic and social emergency. The scale of the task pull us out of this crisis is more than just once-in-a-generation. It is once-in-a-lifetime.  

The crisis throws into doubt decades of progress on poverty eradication, food security, gender equality and other globally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals.  

COVID-19: The Most Vulnerable 91

COVID-19 is impacting the world’s Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States in unprecedented,  profound and disproportionate ways.  

But these countries, often unable to afford comprehensive response plans, are not being supported sufficiently by the international community.  

How is the United Nations responding to the pandemic?

The United Nations system through its global network of regional, sub-regional and country offices is supporting all governments and partners through the response and recovery of this crisis.

OHRLLS Response

OHRLLS has launched the most vulnerable 91 dashboard, tracking international support to the most vulnerable states through this crisis. This tool shows the clear gaps between how richer countries are able to respond – many by spending thousands of dollars per capita – and those with fewer resources.