Africa faces 'hunger pandemic'

Globally, 135 million people are facing acute food shortages and the coronavirus could increase this by another 130 million by year-end.

28 April 2020 | Economics

We could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries - David Beasley, Chief: WFP

Thin Lei Win and Kim Harrisberg - Since South Africa went into lockdown four weeks ago to slow the spread of the coronavirus, hairdresser Nasreen Pillay has had no income. Without a job contract, she cannot apply for government aid either.

"If my mother and father-in-law did not help me, I would be going hungry," Pillay, a 28-year-old mother-of-two from Johannesburg, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She is also fearful the economic squeeze is leading to more crime. Robbers broke into her mother's house two weeks ago, taking speakers, headphones and other items.

"People are desperate," she said.

Such desperation could worsen as job losses mount and incomes plunge due to a coronavirus-induced recession, with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa particularly at risk of spikes in poverty and hunger, experts have warned.

Extreme poverty

The world is "on the brink of a hunger pandemic", David Beasley, head of the United Nations' World Food Programme, told the UN Security Council last week.

Globally, 135 million people are facing acute food shortages and the coronavirus could increase this by another 130 million by year-end, he said.

"In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries," he added.

Riots and protests have already broken out in townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg over promised food parcels that never arrived, according to local media.

Africa as a whole currently has more than 27 000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with more than 1 300 deaths, according to the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

A possible global GDP loss of 5% this year could increase worldwide poverty levels by 20%, pushing another 147 million people into extreme poverty, according to recent estimates by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Sub-Saharan Africa

More than half of those at risk - 79 million people - are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with another 42 million in South Asia, said David Laborde Debucquet, senior research fellow at the Washington-based think tank.

"We are talking about [people] earning below US$1.90 a day ... where basically your life is in danger because, when you have this type of poverty and you cannot eat, you will die," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"This will affect the urban poor much more. In the last couple of decades, we have seen very fast urbanisation in these two regions."

In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in five people were already going hungry even before Covid-19 hit, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

In Ghana's capital Accra and surrounding areas where Elijah Amoo Addo runs a food bank, the past three weeks have been "filled with desperation and anxiety - people wondering what will kill them first, hunger or Covid-19", he said.

His organisation, Food For All Africa, had gone from feeding about 150 people a day to preparing 3 500 hot meals daily, he said - and 75% of people relying on them are newcomers who have been affected by the virus, he added.

60 million more

According to the World Bank's most recent estimates, 10% of the world's population - about 730 million people - were living in extreme poverty in 2015.

The combination of Covid-19 and a drop in oil prices could increase this number by 60 million, it said, a much smaller figure than IFPRI's projections.

Laborde Debucquet, however, said IFPRI's calculations took into account numerous factors, including how African countries' main sources of income - remittances, foreign aid, oil and minerals, and tourism - were all being affected by the crisis.

Also unlike the 2008/9 global financial crisis, no part of the world has been untouched by the pandemic, he said.

Africa's high levels of poverty, lack of social safety nets and reliance on low-skilled labour in informal sectors in urban areas made it particularly vulnerable, he said.

Aid agencies are already warning about looming hunger in many countries around the world, but particularly in Africa.

Rising prices

Rising prices mean the amount of food poor people can buy has reduced, while difficulty accessing quality seeds and fertilisers, as well as market closures, are hurting farmers and traders, they say.

In Zimbabwe, where 7.7 million people already struggle to eat daily, maize prices rose by a third in February, according to charity Action Aid.

In Burkina Faso, the cost of a litre of cooking oil has almost doubled and millet is nearly 20% more expensive, a group of non-governmental organisations said, calling on governments to help farmers and vulnerable communities.

Herders are struggling too as border closures and curfews restrict their movements and ability to feed their animals, increasing the risk of conflicts with farmers, said the group, which includes Oxfam and Action Against Hunger.

Experts at IFPRI and FAO have said production of staple grains is stable but warned logistical hurdles and social distancing measures are putting pressure on food supply chains, particularly in cities where there is little land to grow food.

"About 80% of urban Africans get their food through informal food markets. So even if it's coming off the farm and coming out of the factories, if you cannot buy it, it's as good as not existing," said James Thurlow, senior research fellow at IFPRI.

Nigeria, SA

Thurlow's team has been conducting studies in Africa and Asia and identified South Africa and Nigeria as countries that could be hardest hit by the economic slowdown.

Their estimates showed the GDP of both could reduce by up to a third in the first quarter of 2020, particularly if Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, extends and broadens its lockdown, he said.

A four-week lockdown in Nigeria could put an additional 8 million Nigerians - 5% of the population - below the poverty line, he said.

Nigerian tech entrepreneur Jide Rotilu said he is bracing for more difficult times after witnessing business drying up for local companies providing travel, catering and photography services.

He is cutting his own spending and the whole country is expecting "a drastic reduction in earning potential for both individuals and organisations", Rotilu said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

South Africa, ranked one of the most unequal countries in the world by the World Bank, had a 29% unemployment rate prior to the lockdown. Even among the employed, 18% - 3 million people - work in the informal sector, government statistics showed.

Tyron Naidoo, 51, who runs a three-decades-old logistics company with 25 workers, said he has had no business since the lockdown and is unable to pay his employees.

He applied for government financial assistance a month ago so he can pay them but has yet to receive anything.

"I am hoping I can give my staff something just so they can survive," he said. – Nampa/Reuters

Similar News


Economy crawls into the green

1 hour ago | Economics

Jo-Maré Duddy WINDHOEKNamibia’s economy grew by 1.6% for the three months ended 30 June, the first positive year-on-year quarterly growth since the...

Economic growth positive in second quarter

13 hours ago | Economics

Jo-Maré Duddy – Namibia’s economy in the second quarter grew by 1.6% on annual basis, recovering from -6.7% the previous quarter and -11.6% in the...

Environment providing a good buying opportunity

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

PHILLEPUS UUSIKUDespite interest rates being at record lows and providing a good buying opportunity, economic challenges faced by consumers and low confidence in future economic...

British employers offer more signing bonuses

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

Some British employers are offering more signing bonuses to tackle labour shortages and overcome hiring bottlenecks, data from Indeed Hiring Lab’s quarterly report showed on...

UK inflation expectations jump in September

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

The British public's expectations for inflation over the next year and over the longer-term jumped this month, raising the risk that the Bank of England...

SA regulator approves floating power plants

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

South Africa's energy regulator on Tuesday approved generating licenses for three controversial floating power plants, stoking environmental concerns as Africa's most industrialised nation grapples with...

Zuma seeks to replace prosecutor in arms trial

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

A South African court on Tuesday resumed a trial that has dragged out for years over a US$2 billion arms deal involving ex-president Jacob Zuma,...

Nigeria, Ghana to join digital currency race

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

SEGUN OLAKOYENIKANNigeria and Ghana are racing to adopt a central bank digital currency as they look to ride the wave of popularity of cryptocurrencies in...

Wealthy nations facing high taxes

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

DHARA RANASINGHE AND SUJATA RAOTaxes in the world's wealthiest countries are rising. Inevitable perhaps given the unprecedented Covid-era debt surge and, according to some investors,...

IMF calls for coordinated action

1 day - 23 September 2021 | Economics

ANDREA SHALALThe chief economist of the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday called for coordinated action and greater accountability to ensure that the world meets a...

Latest News

Marketing Namibia as an investment...

1 hour ago | Economics

PHILLEPUS UUSIKUThe ease of doing business, quality of roads and infrastructure, political and economic stability, good governance and judiciary independence are some of the factors...

Forklifting failure

1 hour ago | Others

Natasja ByleveldAre you OK thinking about unconventional ideas that could uplift society and norms to a higher standard? Do you like a challenge, or do...

Big thinker who is not...

1 hour ago | People

Contrasting with his considered, analytical, and steady approach to life, Rolf Mendelsohn is an undisputed adventurer. Together with the other founders of Paratus, Rolf...

Children abused as govt turns...

1 hour ago | Police

JEMIMA BEUKES WINDHOEKStaff at a centre for orphans and vulnerable people in Katutura...

Economy crawls into the green

1 hour ago | Economics

Jo-Maré Duddy WINDHOEKNamibia’s economy grew by 1.6% for the three months ended 30 June, the first positive year-on-year quarterly growth since the...

Oxygen giant spreads misinformation in...

1 hour ago | Health

MADLEN DAVIES and TUYEIMO HAIDULA LONDON/OSHAKATI One of the world’s biggest industrial gas companies spread misinformation in an attempt to stop...

Nigeria aims to boost oil...

1 hour ago | Economics

Nigeria said Wednesday it aims to produce 1.88 million barrels per day of crude oil next year and the budget will be based on the...

Submissions open for Hollard Sport...

1 hour ago | Economics

STAFF REPORTERLockdown and the limitations on gatherings and events have driven those in the sports marketing and promotional space to have to adapt, digitise, dig...

An easy ride-hailing platform

1 hour ago | Others

Wetumwene Shikage The everyday experience for many Namibians of getting a taxi to from different locations has been made more convenient. TaxiConnect provides an easy...

Load More