Widening disparities threaten economies, stability: WEF Global Risks Report 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has widened longstanding health, economic and digital disparities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has widened longstanding health, economic and digital disparities.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - The world needs to wake up to long-term risks, said the World Economic Forum in its Global Risks Report 2021 that was launched on Tuesday (Jan 19).

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only left millions dead and infected but also widened longstanding health, economic and digital disparities, according to the report.

It said that these widening disparities and consequent social fragmentation could threaten economies in the next three to five years and weaken geopolitical stability in the next five to 10 years.

Last year showed the consequences of a pandemic, a phenomenon the Forum says it predicted in 2006.

"As governments, businesses and societies survey the damage inflicted over the last year, strengthening strategic foresight is now more important than ever," said WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab and managing director Saadia Zahidi.

The annual risk report - with this year's edition being the 16th - identifies and analyses critical global risks facing the world. It is based on a Global Risks Perception Survey, which is completed by over 650 members of the World Economic Forum's diverse leadership communities.

The report noted that the pandemic's immediate impact is "severe".

"Job losses, a widening digital divide, disrupted social interactions and abrupt shifts in markets could lead to dire consequences and lost opportunities for large parts of the global population," it warned.

This will have wider ramifications and could take the form of social unrest, political fragmentation and geopolitical tensions that could shape the ability to respond to other threats this decade, such as cyber attacks, weapons of mass destruction and climate change.

Those surveyed ranked climate action failure as the risk that worries them the most, followed by livelihood crises and spread of infectious diseases.

The Forum's strategic partners for the report were Marsh McLennan, SK Group and the Zurich Insurance Group.

The National University of Singapore, the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Centre at the University of Pennsylvania served as academic advisers for it.