Africa’s Pandemic of Poverty

When at the tail-end of 2019, the novel Corona virus waltzed out of Wuhan, China and proceeded on taking the world on an excruciating journey for all of 2020, peoples and systems around the world scrambled to adjust to the new reality that had left very little room for preparation or lethargy. Vaccines have since been rolled out and measures to curb the virus have turned out to be largely successful. However, the virus`s rollercoaster continues and it was long ago that the world came to a the realization that the reality of a new virus was here and that the prudent measures would be those measures taken to contain it.

South Africa, the African country most hit by virus going by the sheer number of infections and deaths,  recently entered  a fifth wave of  Covid-19 while North Korea has recently been hit by a surge of infections and deaths from the virus which all go to show that the virus is still very much present in the world today.

 As the corona virus surged across the world showing the full extent of its destructively disruptive armoury, an uncomfortable realization dawned on the world. The realization did not only have everything to do with the number of infections and deaths that would result from the virus, the highly infectious nature of the virus was forcing measures that were bound to hit some of the world`s most vulnerable people below the belt.

 In Nigeria for example, it was not long before the authorities imposed a crippling nationwide lockdown in March 2020   which meant that businesses and many other economic activities were ground to a halt with only the most essential of services spared.

The measures imposed to enforce social distancing also ensured that people could not just live and work as they used to. Businesses and jobs all suffered violent upheavals as many people scrambled just to survive the heavy toll the pandemic had imposed on them. The pandemic did not just  bring a loss of lives, it also  saw the loss of numerous  livelihoods.

One of Africa`s grandest contradictions is that in spite of its staggering natural and human resources, it is still home to some of the world`s poorest people. Factors which have contributed to this grim situation include corruption, conflict and climate change. Africa was already a continent of many struggling people before the pandemic came. The pandemic has since further complicated Africa`s gripping battle against poverty.

Reports recently emerged that the global pandemic has pushed more than 55 million Africans into extreme poverty reversing in the process two decades of hard work in poverty reduction on the continent. This revelation came courtesy of the Economic Report on Africa for 2021 which blamed the growing poverty on job losses, reduced income and the inability of households to manage risks.

 The 150-page report launched in Dakar, Senegal, by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said the corona virus negatively impacted the continent`s economy. The report in spelling out in chilling terms that the pandemic eliminated 20 years` worth of achievements made in fighting poverty pointed out that the economic decline caused by the lockdowns and restrictions on people and the movement of goods increased the number of newly poor people on the continent by 55 million and pushed 39 million others into extreme poverty. Still according to the report, between 30 million and 35 million jobs remain at the risk of reduced wages and reduced working hours on the continent because of reduced demand and enforced lockdowns.

The response of many African governments to this unexpected economic crisis has been to expand their fiscal and monetary policies. Some of the recommendations from experts were for Africa to ramp up its production levels so as to create jobs and employment.

There is no doubt that a lot of work needs to be done to get Africa back to pre-pandemic poverty levels and to keep even those levels dropping. Poverty makes people vulnerable. Poverty makes children, their families and communities vulnerable to all manner of uncertainties; poverty blights the future of children and obliterates the quality of their lives.

If Africa is to ever become a continent where poverty is not a dominant theme, then constant work needs to be done.

Kene Obiezu,

keneobiezu@gmail.com 

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