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Aid agencies call for urgent action to prevent famine in hunger hotspots

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World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution in Kaya, Burkina Faso. WFP/Mahamady Ouedraogo

People in four food insecurity “hotspots” inside Burkina Faso, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, need help urgently to avoid sliding into famine, UN humanitarians said on Friday.

“We are concerned that they may be facing an elevated risk of famine if the situation would further deteriorate over the coming months”, said Claudia Ah Poe, senior food security adviser at the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking at a press conference at UN Geneva. 

In a joint alert with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WFP also warned that 16 other countries also face a “major (food) emergency – or series of emergencies” in the next three to six months. 

The drivers of these humanitarian crises include long-running conflict and a lack of humanitarian access to communities in need; climate extremes and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said in a new report on food insecurity hotspots. 

At-risk nations

At-risk nations include Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where 22 million people are acutely food insecure, the highest number ever registered for a single country – Ethiopia, Haiti and Venezuela.

“These countries already had significant acute food insecurity levels in 2020…and are now facing a risk of a further rapid deterioration over the next months”, said WFP’s Ah Poe.
Sahel shocks

Underscoring the level of need in the three African countries found to be among the four most at risk of famine, WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri highlighted how people’s dire situation was linked to an insurgency in northern Burkina Faso and northeastern Nigeria.

Years of conflict had also created chronic vulnerability in South Sudan, made worse by this year’s catastrophic flooding Mr. Phiri added. “People have lost assets, people have lost their capability to cope with any shocks. We had …unprecedented floods this year; floodwaters were submerging whole towns, people are struggling, the harvest that was just about to come in.” 

Pandemic fallout

Further data from March to September has also shown that while in many countries COVID-19-related restrictions were progressively lifted, allowing economic activity to resume, food insecurity has worsened in 27 countries, with up to 104.6 million people in need.

In 2019, the number of people facing similar levels of food insecurity in these 27 countries was 97.6 million, according to WFP.

“In those 27 countries, the number of people that are already facing acute food insecurity are (sic) more than 100 million already. Analysis obviously is continuously ongoing so we except this number to increase much more,” said WFP’s Ah Poe. “And earlier on this year, we… had estimated in the countries where we are operating – which is around 80 countries – an additional 121 million people would be at risk of falling into food insecurity.”

Somalia lessons

Speaking via video link from Rome, FAO senior food crises analyst, Luca Russo, recalled that the main objective of the alert was to avert a humanitarian catastrophe by identifying the many factors that contribute to famine, and which specific actions would help vulnerable communities most.

In 2011, famine was declared in southern Somalia in July, but most people had already died by May, he said.

“The moment you declare a famine it is already too late to act, in the sense that we saw this in the past, with Somalia when the famine was declared, already 260,000 people had died…so we want to raise an early warning before the famine occurs.”

Echoing that message, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience, Dominique Burgeon, called for urgent action from the international community.

“We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger”, he said. “We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”

Famine risk ‘in all four parts of the world’

WFP Director of Emergencies Margot van der Velden, also cautioned that the world is at a “catastrophic turning point”, with the risk of famine in four different parts of the world at the same time. “When we declare a famine, it means many lives have already been lost. If we wait to find that out for sure, people are already dead,” she said.

Famine is defined as the most severe type of hunger, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) measure, which humanitarians use to gauge food security levels on a scale of one to five.

A declaration of famine – IPC 5 – only refers to areas where “at least one in five households has or is most likely to have an extreme deprivation of food”, as per the IPC definition, and where “significant mortality, directly attributable to outright starvation or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease, is occurring or will be occurring”.

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Africa Today

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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Africa Today

Quality and standards: Game-changers for the post-COVID recovery of African economies?

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has organized a webinar onquality and standards in the context of post-COVID-19 recovery of African economies. It provided a multi-stakeholder platform to discuss the role of quality institutions and services for the sustainable and inclusive industrialization of Africa.

The discussion took place in the framework of the UNIDO–African Union joint celebration of Africa Industrialization Week 2020 on the theme, “Inclusive and sustainable industrialization in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and COVID-19 era”. It also represented a follow-up to the International Quality Infrastructure Forum held in April 2019 in Brussels, which focused on the contribution of Quality Infrastructure (QI) to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to implement the AfCFTA.

The session was moderated by Patrick Gilabert, Head of the UNIDO Liaison Office in Brussels, and introduced by Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento,Managing Director of UNIDO Directorate of Digitalization, Technology and Agri-Business, at UNIDO headquarters.  Calzadilla-Sarmiento stated that standards and quality for the AfCFTA, strong partnerships, and investments, were key to ensure inclusive and sustainable industrial development in Africa and achieve the SDGs for people, planet and prosperity. He also highlighted that “digitalization will be an integral part of the new normal”.

The keynote speech was delivered by Elsie Meintjies, Chief Technical Adviser for the UNIDO South Africa office, who presented case studies in the South African region. For her, “it is clear that we are facing challenges, but also opportunities to uniquely position ourselves in the world”. COVID-19 is, in her view, “the catalyst for South African technical infrastructure to take a quantum leap to the next level of service for our industry and our citizens”. She also confirmed the role and significance of standards, conformity assessment, accreditation, and metrology in the economy of South Africa.

Antti Karhunen, Acting Head of Unit at DG DEVCO, presented the European Union (EU) common response to the pandemic, called “Team Europe”, which will support Africa with a recovery package of 3.8 billion €.From an EU perspective, improvements in quality infrastructure and standards harmonization in Africa, together with investment promotion, private sector support (especially SMEs), and value chain diversification, are seen as great opportunities for Africa to emerge as a strong international trading partner. Karhunen recognizedthe need to build international partnerships, based on mutual interests and shared values to “build back better” and aim for a green, digital, and resilient recovery. He concluded by acknowledging that DEVCO was looking forward to continuing the excellent cooperation with international partners such as UNIDO and the Organisation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

Escipión Joaquín Oliveira Gómez, Assistant Secretary General of the OACPS in Brussels, warned that the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted all economic and social processes. Value chains are being put in a very difficult position, hence the time for a paradigm shift towards more competitiveness based on “value propositions”. He said the guiding principles for OACPS to successfully tackle the COVID-19 pandemic are clear: recognize that it is not a crisis that can be tackled by one continent, region, country or sector alone; foster public-private sector dialogue and cooperation at all levels; promote national consumption of locally produced goods and services; assist vulnerable groups such as youth and women via special programs; take advantage of the crisis to promote the use of “leapfrog” technologies by MSMEs.

Eve Christine Gadzikwa, past President of the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO), recognized that we live through times that are both exciting, where the concept Made in Africa is becoming more and more a reality, and challenging. For her, the critical elements to unlock value from the continent are the participation of SMEs and the contribution of women and youth. Obvious gaps are also access to information, logistics facilitation, intellectual property rights, payment options, and data storage. Even more importantly, she believes the mindset of the private sector has to change and become one of productivity, competitiveness, sustainable growth, market penetration and recognition of the value of the digital economy.

Dorsaf Labidi explained how the African Development Bank (AfDB) has contributed to the global efforts against the crisis. She mentioned the quick response mechanism put in place through loans amounting to 10 billion dollars. These budgetary measures for governments and private sector intend to mitigate the direct impacts of COVID-19. However, they should also be complemented by capacity-building measures and technical assistance in order to anticipate the needs for the economic recovery and future shocks.

Papa Demba Thiam, economist and industrial development expert, argued that shared growth with wealth distribution can only take place through value chains with value addition. In the AfCFTA context, quality standards, metrology, and testing truly matter. He suggested to focus on the strengths of the continent to support industrialization and to follow a more integrated approach through minimum integrated trade expansion platforms and operational services.

Ron Josias, Chair of the African Accreditation Cooperation (AFRAC), shared his view regarding the impact of COVID-19 on accreditation corporations responsible for evaluating and establishing regional arrangements for accreditation bodies on the continent. Challenges occurred in two main ways: people and processes. One the one hand, social distancing changed the way communication, trainings, and administrative management usually worked. On the other hand, preventing laboratory visits and the verification of technical competences proved to challenge accreditation bodies to witness the quality of processes. In this context, smart technologies became key. Despite these challenges, his view is that the crisis introduced new grounds for innovation as it “made us think in different ways”.

To conclude the webinar, speakers were invited to share their views on how they see the future of quality and standards. In a nutshell, key take-aways showed a common enthusiasm regarding the prospect of internationally accepted Made in Africa products, and a call for change in mindset that ensures consumers believe and trust in the quality of African products.

Panellists also agreed that collaboration was more than ever needed and especially through public-private partnerships. Joint efforts are required to ensure that pan-African quality infrastructure works, that concrete steps for the intra-African and South-South cooperation in regard to industrial development are made, and that integration is reinforced between all institutions.

Other concluding remarks urged the need for investments, capacity-building, digitalization of QI (especially data security, confidentiality and connectivity) and for taking more holistic approaches by working at regional level.

The discussion led to the conclusion that it is high time for a paradigm shift. Africa and key partners should build on the social and economic disruptions related to COVID-19, the opportunities offered by the momentum of AfCFTA, and the innovations brought by digital transformations. Looking ahead, quality and standards will remain cornerstones of competitiveness and essential services for resilient, inclusive, and sustainable industrialization in Africa “to build back better”.

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Africa Today

Kenya’s GDP Contracts Under Weight of COVID-19, Impacting Lives and Livelihoods

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The latest World Bank economic analysis for Kenya projects the economy to contract by between 1.0 percent and 1.5 percent in 2020, as ongoing COVID-19 containment measures and behavioral responses restrict activity in Kenya and its trading partners.

The Kenya Economic Update, Navigating the Pandemic, notes the downturn in economic growth reflects the more severe economic impact of the pandemic to date than had been initially anticipated, including a large impact on the national accounts of the closure of education institutions since March. In response, the government has deployed both fiscal and monetary policies to support the healthcare system, protect the most vulnerable households, and support firms to help preserve jobs, incomes and the economy’s productive potential. With a sharp decline in tax revenues due to the weakening in economic activity, and tax relief, and an increase in COVID-related spending needs, the fiscal deficit has widened, and debt vulnerabilities have risen. The fiscal deficit widened to 8.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), up from the pre-COVID budgeted target of 6.0 percent of GDP, and Kenya’s debt to GDP ratio has risen to 65.6 percent of GDP as of June 2020, up from 62.4 percent of GDP in June 2019.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten both the lives and livelihoods of Kenyans, we remain committed to supporting the government to allocate sufficient resources to the health sector to combat the pandemic, continue with mass testing, support self-quarantine, social distancing, and protect the most vulnerable groups,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “It is equally critical to provide well-targeted support to the most vulnerable affected households.”

Beyond strengthening health systems and protecting incomes, the report recommends several near-term actions that can play a role to combat recession and revive the economy’s productivity, creating the conditions for a resilient and inclusive recovery. Ensuring continued access to safe healthcare, including for non-COVID-19 related health concerns, remains a priority. Given fiscal constraints, this will require redirecting expenditures to the highest priority areas, whilst maintaining a focus on raising the efficiency of spending and ensuring the transparent use of funds.

Following the job and income losses precipitated by the crisis, the report notes support is needed for the “new poor” whose livelihoods have been affected. This could be achieved through a horizontal scale-up of social protection programs, appropriately targeted, timely, and temporary while the crisis persists.It is critical to ensure continued support to vulnerable households, while safeguarding human capital through expanded access to digital technology, combined with better access to information to mitigate usage of negative coping strategies (i.e. asset liquidation) and combat food insecurity while offsetting the increase in poverty.

“Following the extraordinary economic support efforts necessitated by the crisis, Kenya’s economic recovery can be supported by the authorities returning to an appropriately-timed and balanced fiscal consolidation path, to reduce mounting debt vulnerabilities and safeguard macroeconomic stability,” said Alex Sienaert, World BankSenior Economist and lead author of the report. “Kenya will also need to enhance its existing institutional setup for monitoring and responding to future communicable disease outbreaks, and further the still-critical “Big 4” agenda for medium-term inclusive growth, including realizing the government’s vision of sustainably providing universal healthcare.”

Kenya’s economic outlook remains highly uncertain, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in the country, and globally. Under baseline assumptions, the economy is projected to rebound quickly in 2021, lifting real GDP by 6.9 percent y/y. A major factor in this strong rebound is the unusual impact on the national account’s treatment of education sector output normalizing, which is projected to add 2.2 percentage points to real GDP growth next year.Delayed availability of vaccines, and prolonged social distancing and other needed COVID-19 countermeasures, could undermine the projected recovery in economic activity.

The report’s policy section focuses on options to strengthen healthcare system and testing capacity, to support firms, and to protect the most vulnerable households to cope with the COVID-19 global pandemic.

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