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Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa

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The Board of the World Bank Group has allocated today a total of $379 million in International Development Association (IDA)* credits and grants to help harmonize and strengthen statistical systems in seven West African countries, namely Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo, and to support the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in their efforts to deepen regional integration in Africa.

The new project, Harmonizing and Improving Statistics in West Africa (HISWA), aims to strengthen the statistical systems of participating countries and regional and sub-regional bodies, in order to help them harmonize, produce, disseminate and enhance the use of core economic and social statistics.

Good data are essential to address the socio-economic development challenges facing the West Africa region in general, and the seven beneficiary countries in particular. Regular population censuses, household surveys, data of critical social concerns and key economic statistics such as agricultural and enterprise censuses and surveys are key to inform the decision-making process, enable efficient allocation of resources, and assess the effects of development policies and interventions. Despite progress over the past 20 years, institutional weaknesses and inconsistent financing limit the quality of statistics in West Africa, leading to poor knowledge management and difficulties in addressing emerging challenges in various development sectors.

HISWA is a regional project that will stimulate demand for data and increase the capacity of the National Statistics Offices in the beneficiary countries. Key activities include, inter alia: the harmonization of methodologies by the ECOWAS Commission; strengthened production of core economic and social statistics, including demographic and poverty statistics, national accounts and price statistics; the improvement of targeted administrative statistics; capacity-building, data dissemination; and institutional reforms. The project will also help to improve and modernize physical and statistical infrastructure to help achieve its stated objectives.

High-quality and harmonized statistics are essential to support economic activity and regional integration as a way to address some of the key challenges facing countries in West Africa”, says Ms. Deborah Wetzel, World Bank Director of Regional Integration for Africa. “Through its regional approach, the HISWA will allow for more cost-effective data and harmonization of data across countries, which is instrumental in key areas such as promotion of free trade, convergence of economic policies, and many others”, she added.

Beyond the National Statistics Offices and the regional bodies, HISWA will provide reliable microdata, data platforms and statistics bulletins to a larger audience, including universities, researchers, students and the general public.

The project is also relevant to the Strategy for Harmonization of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA2), the continent-wide initiative aimed at addressing the constraints facing African statistical systems and promoting its regional integration agenda. It also supports the implementation of ECOWAS’s regional strategy 2019-2023 that aims to raise the living standards of its member country populations. By generating data critical to national and regional planning and monitoring, the project remains well aligned with the World Bank Group’s Regional Integration and Cooperation Assistance Strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa and will help strengthen the connection between regional policy commitments and national planning.  

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Central African Republic: Diversifying the economy to build resilience and foster growth

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According to the latest economic update for the Central African Republic (CAR), which was published today by the World Bank, the country’s pace of economic growth for 2020 will have slumped to between 0 and −1.2% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic following five years of robust growth (4.1%, on average). In 2019, although the country’s growth rate slipped to 3.1%, it was still higher than the rates recorded by neighboring countries that are facing a similar situation of fragility, conflict, and violence.  

Entitled The Central African Republic in Times of COVID-19: Diversifying the economy to build resilience and foster growth,theupdate notesthat the global slowdown has not spared CAR, where production of its main export products, such as coffee and cotton, has plummeted. The health crisis has weakened public finances and deepened the country’s balance of payments deficit.

The authors observe that the pandemic’s effects may wipe out years of progress in the area of human development and could drive as many as another 140,000 people into extreme poverty, which was already the plight of 71% of the population in 2019. The growth rate should start climbing again once the pandemic is brought under control, however, rising to an average of 3.9% in 2021-2023, although this is still lower than the projected rates for those years before the outbreak of the pandemic.

Even though the security situation has improved since the peace agreement was signed in February 2019, pre-existing structural problems in the Central African economy have exacerbated the impact of the pandemic,” explained Wilfried A. Kouamé, World Bank Economist and lead author of the report. The economy’s lack of diversification makes it vulnerable to shocks and limits its participation in global value chains, while its heavy dependence on international assistance reduces its budgetary maneuvering room.”

A number of recommendations are made in the report for spurring the economic recovery and boosting the country’s potential growth rate:

Diversify the economy by capitalizing on existing export opportunities. The country’s major export products, such as timber and cotton, offer opportunities for specializing in a wide range of related products, creating new jobs, and generating additional revenue. CAR could also begin to export a variety of new products in which it has a comparative advantage.

Address the major cross-cutting problems affecting the country by putting an end to the violence, strengthening its institutions, ensuring respect for the law, and investing in sustainable development. These steps would expedite the reconciliation process and promote private enterprise and investment. The transport sector also needs to be developed in order to further cross-border trade and open up access to electricity in a country where just 8% of the population currently has access to a source of electrical power.

Reinforce subregional trade. Asia and Europe are among CAR’s top export markets despite their highly competitive nature and the significant constraints associated with the resulting transport costs. Meanwhile, neighboring countries have the potential to be important markets for the country, since they are currently net importers of products that CAR exports elsewhere. This subregional market represents some $31 billion in imports per year and has a population of over 175 million.

CAR has an important choice to make,” said Han Fraeters, the World Bank’s Country Manager for CAR. It can build a strong, diversified, and resilient economy but only if all stakeholders in the country are committed to holding peaceful general and local elections and to implementing the peace accord. Without peace and the prospect of long-term stability, CAR will be unable to realize its strong economic potential.”

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Mali: COVID-19 and conflict lead to rise in child trafficking

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Women walk on the street in Timbuktu, Mali. MINUSMA/Blagoje Grujic

Child trafficking is rising in Mali, along with forced labour and forced recruitment by armed groups, due to conflict, insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday. 

Some 230 cases of child recruitment were reported during the first half of the year, compared with 215 cases for the whole of 2019, according to a UNHCR-backed study. 

Armed groups are also trafficking children to work in gold mines, with the profits being used to fuel the arms trade and finance violence, the agency added.   

Meanwhile, adults operating in the mines are subjected to extortionate “taxes”. 

Worst forms of abuse 

“As a result of conflict and socio-economic deterioration worsened by the pandemic, we are seeing some of the most egregious human rights violations in the Sahel,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.  

“Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude, or married off. Many more children are at risk in the Sahel, a region which is becoming the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.” 

Overall, an estimated 6,000 children, mainly boys, were found working across eight mining sites in Mali, according to UNHCR child protection assessments.   

These youngsters are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, economic exploitation, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse. 

Working to pay off bogus ‘debt’ 

Some children arrived at the mine sites on “credit”, meaning a third party had financed their transport and food, while others said they worked for days without being paid.  They are expected to work for an unspecified time until they pay of their “debt”. 

Additionally, UNHCR said reports of communities of women and girls being abducted, sexually assaulted and raped, have been received from the Mopti region in central Mali, with more than 1,000 cases recorded so far this year.   

The agency fears child marriage will also inevitably increase in a country where an estimated 53 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18. 

Trafficked in transit 

The victims of these crimes are Malians, but also refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.  

Despite the conflict, and COVID-19 movement restrictions, UNHCR said Mali remains a key transit country for people attempting to reach northern Africa and Europe. 

Some of these “people on the move” are trafficked for forced labour in the agriculture sector, while others, particularly women, are trafficked on the way to promised jobs in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Others are diverted to the capital, Bamako, or to mining or agricultural areas where they are forced to engage in so-called survival sex.  

UNHCR said traffickers and their accomplices range from the echelons of organized crime and outlawed armed groups, tribal chiefs or state authorities, but can even include parents, relatives or community members.  

The agency continues to press for greater support for efforts to prevent and respond to trafficking, to protect those at risk, and to provide assistance to victims while also ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice. 

However, insufficient funding threatens these efforts, according to a recent report.

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First of four UN humanitarian airlifts for Ethiopia refugees lands in Khartoum

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A young Ethiopian refugee sleeps on a mattress at a transit site in Hamdayet, Sudan. © UNHCR/Olivier Jobard

An airplane loaded with humanitarian supplies for people fleeing violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) said on Friday, in an appeal for international assistance to cope with the growing numbers seeking shelter in Sudan.

“This morning, a plane carrying 32 tonnes of UNHCR emergency aid from our global stockpiles in Dubai landed in Khartoum”, said spokesperson Babar Baloch. “Another airlift is scheduled to leave Dubai on Monday with an additional 100 tonnes of additional relief items…In total, we plan to send four airlifts.”

Growing exodus

Since the start of fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in early November, more than 43,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan.

People have sought shelter amid reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around regional capital Mekelle, following the Ethiopian Government’s ultimatum to forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to surrender, which has reportedly expired.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed deep concern over the unfolding situation, before urging “the leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access for the provision of much-needed assistance”.

In a statement, the UN chief also called for the “free and safe movement of people searching for safety and assistance, regardless of their ethnic identity, across both national and international borders”.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s message, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, warned that both sides were using rhetoric that was “dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger”.

One million refugees

Even before violence erupted in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region causing mass displacement, Sudan was already home to nearly one million refugees, mainly from South Sudan.

In eastern Sudan, UNHCR has continued to step up its relief effort, together with national and local partners. “Aid is being mobilized to help refugees, almost half of whom are children”, Mr. Baloch said, citing “complex logistical challenges”.

To date the agency has helped to relocate nearly 10,000 refugees to Um Rakuba site, 70 kilometres inside Sudan, as work continues to put up shelters and improve services.

Family tracing services have been established and these have already reunited many separated refugees.

Mr. Baloch noted that although humanitarian agencies continue to provide shelter and other facilities to help refugees, “more resources are required and Sudan needs international support urgently”.

Inside Tigray, concerns continue to grow for the safety of civilians in Mekelle, home to more than 500,000 people, and some 96,000 Eritrean refugees based in four camps.

No access

“Without humanitarian access, it’s very hard to say what is actually going on, on the ground but there were worrying reports that fighting was getting closer to these refugee camps”, Mr. Baloch told journalists via video link at a regular UN Geneva briefing.

Before the conflict erupted, UNHCR had “regular access to the refugees”, the UNHCR official continued, but “since the start of it, we have lost access”.

Highlighting the refugees’ reliance on humanitarian distributions, Mr. Baloch said that “according to what they have had…they will be running out of food as of Monday”.

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