Image Credit: Gulf News

In my Sharjah neighbourhood, there is a fridge at the entrance to the area. It has been there for a few years. Most of the neighbours fill it with packs of food for the labourers in the area, who often come at lunch or supper time to pick up. It is a gesture by the community to help the less fortunate among us.

In normal times, there will be a few packets left. Nowadays, I noticed that whatever we put in that fridge goes away fast. It did not take me long to figure out. Many of these labourers may have lost their jobs, and therefore need all the food they can get.

These are tough times. The coronavirus affected all of us. The pandemic has impacted the global economy in a way the world has never seen before.

On Thursday, the US Department of Labour said more than 4 million Americans lost their jobs last week. That makes it 26 million Americans who have been laid off in the past five weeks alone, taking the unemployment rate in the US to a staggering 23 per cent — the worse in 87 years.

Schools...could reduce the tuition fees or postpone the payment deadlines. Property owners also have a duty to ease the burden of families by lowering the rent and delaying the encashment of cheques.

- Mohammed Almezel, Editor at Large, Gulf News

The numbers released by the department show that all the jobs created since the 2008 financial crisis — from 2010 to 2020 — have been erased in just one month by the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic with most economic activities coming to a standstill.

Millions more are expected to file for unemployment benefits this week as April comes to an end. This month has been the worse ever economically since the Great Depression, between 1929 and 1933, when the global GDP declined by 27 per cent.

Around the world, the picture is not very different. In Europe and Asia, the situation is somewhat similar, although not as drastic as America. All of a sudden, millions of families found themselves without income. They can no longer make ends meet. The United Nations Food Programme went as far as warning that millions are under the threat of dying from hunger. This is the stark reality we face today as the COVID-19 continues unabated. With a vaccine or a treatment not in sight, lockdowns will continue around the world, despite the marginal easing of movement in some countries. Major industries and businesses will thus remain closed. More people will lose their jobs.

Job losses and pay cuts

In the UAE, a global hub of trade and tourism, the economy has naturally been impacted by the global recession. Thousands of people lost their jobs or saw their pay slashed significantly. One cannot blame employers in these conditions. When the business is down, the cost will be cut, and manpower reduced. And in these times, our humanity will be tested.

In these times of crisis, our core values as human beings are being challenged. We will get through these difficult times by showing solidarity and offering support to those who have been impacted.

The government has come up with several initiatives to help people cope with the dire situation. There is a massive stimulus package to help businesses survive to keep their staff on the payroll. There is also a Ramadan initiative, announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to provide more than 10 million meals for the needy.

But ultimately the buck stops with us, the community. Every one of us has a duty to help those in need. I am thinking of the three main expenses most families endure every month — bank commitments, schools fees and the rent.

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Banks need to show their support for the community that helped them make massive profits all these years. Now, it is time for the banks to pay the society back. They could defer loan instalments and waive service charges. Credit cards payments can also be postponed. These gestures will go a long way in helping families overcome the loss of their income or the major part of it. The banks are due to get an aid package from the central bank anyway.

The same goes for schools which could reduce the tuition fees or postpone the payment deadlines. Property owners also have a duty to ease the burden of families by lowering the rent and delaying the encashment of cheques.

As for you, dear reader, you can help those around you. I am sure all of us know someone who is in dire need of help but will not ask for it. We know them and can help them. And with the beginning of Ramadan, the month of giving and sharing, it is one more reason to show our true colours as a community.