United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress and could push millions into extreme poverty. Guterres gave this warning at the launching a policy report on “The Impact of COVID-19 in Africa” that countries on the continent have responded swiftly to the crisis, and as of now reported cases are lower than feared with more than 2,500 deaths. The virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases, the 28-page U.N. report said.
A UN Report quotes Guterres as stating that citizens across the continent have done much to advance their own well-being, detailing strong economic growth, an on-going digital revolution, and a bold free-trade area agreement. Demand for Africa’s commodities, together with tourism and remittances, are in decline, he observed. “The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back – and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty”. Moreover, the virus has taken more than 2,500 African lives: “Vigilance and preparedness are critical”, underscored Mr. Guterres.
URGENT CHALLENGES: Noting that while UN agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations, and humanitarian workers continue to provide support, “a spectrum of urgent challenges”, require more urgent assistance. The relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases confirmed thus far “have raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic,” the report said. “Caution is warranted, however, as these are early days in the life cycle of a disease that is still not fully understood and where we have seen repeated patterns of first slow, then exponential growth in the number of cases.”
The U.N. said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization warning that the pandemic “could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses.” And WHO also warned that “the socioeconomic impacts could `smolder’ for several years,” the report said. Noting that while UN agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers continue to provide support, “a spectrum of urgent challenges”, require more urgent assistance.
“We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings”, the UN chief spelled out. Mr. Guterres echoed his call for a global response package amounting to some 10 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and advocated for “across-the-board debt standstill”, followed by targeted debt relief. As African countries requires quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, Mr. Guterres recalled his appeal last month to support the Global Collaboration to accelerate the Development, Production and Equitable Access to New COVID-19 Tools
MUCH HANGS IN THE BALANCE He called for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings. To help address the devastating economic and social consequences of the pandemic, Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries” unable to service their debt, “followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.”
In recent years, Guterres said economic growth in Africa has been strong, the digital revolution has taken hold and agreement has been reached on a free trade area. But he said “already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining” and the opening of the trade zone has been pushed back. The secretary-general said the pandemic “will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.”
The U.N. urged that agriculture be declared a critical sector that should not be interrupted by COVID-19 related measures. Guterres commended what countries and the African Union have done to tackle the pandemic, saying most have deepened regional coordination, deployed health workers, and enforced quarantines, lockdowns and border closures. “They are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumors and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers,” Guterres said.
He said the United Nations has delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other supplies, reaching almost the entire continent. While dealing with the pandemic, the U.N. report said “maintaining peace and security in Africa remains paramount.”
SILENCE THE GUNS GLOBALLY: Guterres has appealed for global cease-fires to tackle COVID-19 and he said it is “essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism.”
Demand for Africa’s commodities, together with tourism and remittances, are in decline, he observed. “The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back – and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty”. Moreover, the virus has taken more than 2,500 African lives: “Vigilance and preparedness are critical”, underscored Mr. Guterres.
ON WOMEN & YOUTHS: “It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism”, he continued, noting that upcoming elections “offer potential milestones for stability and peace”. Women and youth The UN chief underscored that as women will be central to every aspect of the response, stimulus packages must prioritize increasing social protection and putting cash in their hands.
“Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout”, Mr. Guterres said.Moreover, African youth must be empowered, and human rights respected. In closing, he asserted that Africa was still in the early days of coronavirus infection, compared with other continents, warning that disruption could escalate quickly.
“Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world”, concluded the Secretary-General. Looking ahead The UN chief underscored his message to the international community that “failure to respond quickly and adequately could jeopardize progress towards Silencing the Guns by 2020 and achieving the SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063”. Meanwhile, various political processes and elections in the coming months offer potential milestones for stability and peace.
“Despite the impact of COVID-19, the African Union has demonstrated unwavering commitment for continued operations”, he stated. Mr. Guterres said that UN field presences continue to protect civilians, undertake community outreach while strictly adhering to host-countries’ COVID-19-related measures and remain actively engaged with parties to peace negotiations.