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Sierra Leone’s Economy is Recovering from COVID-19 but Uncertainties Persist

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Sierra Leone’s economy is projected to recover from the COVID-19 contraction with real GDP expected to rebound by 3.0 percent in 2021, an upward revision of 0.8 percentage point relative to the 2020 forecast, according to the new World Bank Sierra Leone Economic Update launched today in Freetown. The growth rebound reflects the expected recovery of agriculture, mining and services following the easing of COVID-related restrictions and Government’s Quick Action Economic Response Program (QAERP).

Fiscal deficit almost doubled in 2020 due to a combination of revenue shortfalls and spending increases to support the Government’s pandemic response. The deficit is expected to decline gradually to 2.4 percent of GDP by 2023 as COVID-19 related spending is reduced while revenue mobilization improves on the back of the expected economic recovery. To strengthen fiscal sustainability, the report recommends that the authorities should quickly draw up a roadmap for fiscal consolidation, anchored by robust revenue mobilization and expenditure rationalization reforms, to return to the pre-pandemic (2018/19) fiscal path. The authors also highlight the need for government to prioritize structural reforms for diversifying the economy, and these reforms should focus on creating an enabling environment for the private sector to support long-term economic growth and promote decent and quality jobs, which will in turn support determined domestic revenue mobilization.

“It is a welcoming development that Sierra Leone’s economy is slowly recovering from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis, and we are encouraged by the government’s efforts to deal with the crisis and lessen its impact on people’s livelihoods,” said Abdu Muwonge, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone. “However, improving and sustaining the country’s growth prospects will require further attention to policies that strengthen the quality of service delivery in the social sectors, and we remain committed, together with development partners to supporting efforts that aim at an effective turnaround of the economy.”

The 2021 Economic Update devoted a special section to examine the “Welfare and Poverty Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic” in Sierra Leone. The report found that restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the COVID-19, as well as the downturn in the global economy have led to a small increase in poverty, reversing the previous trend of poverty reduction. Urban areas, particularly the capital city, Freetown, have seen the largest increase in poverty.

During the height of the outbreak, the government provided tax relief to businesses by suspending taxes on essential goods and services. The report recommends that policy priorities over the short to medium-term should focus on strengthening the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by rolling out a strong vaccination program and implementing broad-based macroeconomic reforms to support a quick economic recovery.

“To improve on the current economic outlook, it is important to focus on implementing a robust vaccination program that targets full vaccination of population ‘at risk’ as well as measures to protect people’s livelihoods in the immediate and medium term,” said Kemoh Mansaray, World Bank Senior Country Economist and a lead author of the report. “Sustaining the economic recovery will involve structural reforms to accelerate inclusive economic growth, as well as resuming fiscal consolidation through robust revenue reforms and expenditure rationalization and a prudent monetary policy to support the recovery and stabilize the exchange rate.”

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Africa Today

Only 2% of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in Africa

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More than 5.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of them in Africa, said World Health Organization (WHO) chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday. 

The UN agency is urging every country to vaccinate at least 40% of its population by the end of this year, and hopes to help ensure that 70% of the world’s population is by the middle of next year.  

At a press conference on COVID-19 and vaccine equity in Africa, which is home to more than 1.2 billion people, Mr. Ghebreyesus informed that, so far, just two countries in Africa have reached the 40% target, the lowest of any region. 

“That’s not because African countries don’t have the capacity or experience to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. It’s because they’ve been left behind by the rest of the world,” he said.  

Mr. Ghebreyesus explained that “this leaves people at high risk of disease and death, exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection.” 

Risks and solutions 

For him, the longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective.  

To avoid this situation, last year WHO partnered with UNICEF, CEPI, GAVI and others to create COVAX. So far, the initiative has shipped more than 260 million doses to 141 countries. 

Mr. Ghebreyesus pointed to several challenges, with manufacturers prioritizing bilateral deals and many high-income countries tying up the global supply of shots.  

He also highlighted a similar initiative, established by the African Union, the COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, known as AVAT.  

This Monday and Tuesday, WHO representatives met with the leaders of AVAT “to agree on a way forward”, Mr. Ghebreyesus said: “Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem.” 

Call to countries and manufacturers 

He called on manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and AVAT. To countries with high coverage levels, he asked them to swap their near-term vaccines deliveries, fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately, and facilitate the sharing of technology.  

The WHO chief also called on all countries and manufacturers to share information on bilateral deals, supply and delivery projections and to recognize all vaccines with a WHO Emergency Use Listing.  

The African Union’s Special Envoy for COVID-19, Strive Masiyiwa, also participated in the briefing, alongside the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, and WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, among others. 

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Human Rights abuses intensifying in eastern DR Congo

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(file photo) © UNHCR/Rocco Nuri

An alarming number of human rights abuses have been carried out against civilians this year by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday. 

In the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UNHCR and its partners recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes, constituting a total of 25,000 human rights abuses. 

Speaking in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov said the violence “continues to cost lives and drive people from their homes”.  

Host families ‘exhausted’ 

In total, more than a million Congolese have been internally displaced in the east of the country in 2021, putting “enormous pressure” on those forced to flee and on host families, which have taken in 94 per cent of DRC’s forcibly displaced population. 

“Host families have shown huge generosity towards their compatriots but are exhausted and in need of support if they are to continue as first responders,” Mr. Cheshirkov said. 

Those displaced are often forced to return to their place of origin due to harsh living conditions and a lack of food, further exposing them to abuse and violence. He said that 65 per cent of the serious human rights abuses recorded by UNHCR and partners have been inflicted on returnees.  

‘State of siege’ 

Mr. Cheshirkov said attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group have increased in brutality since late 2020, and the frequency of killings of civilians has not abated. 

This is despite a state of siege being declared in early May 2021 to counter the activities of these armed groups. 

He described how armed men identified as members of the ADF raided a village in Irumu Territory, killed 15 civilians, set fire to 10 houses and kidnapped two women, on 3 September. 

This was followed on 6 September by an attack by an armed group whose militia members reportedly raped 10 displaced women in Djugu Territory, Ituri province. 

UNHCR and partners took the women to the nearest hospital where they received psychosocial and medical support, he said.  

According to Mr. Cheshirkov North Kivu and Ituri Provinces are now led by military governments, following the state of siege. 

This has led the national army to ramp up its operations and replace civil courts with military tribunals. Some of these armed groups have surrendered after seeing their territory shrink, others have countered military operations with reprisals against villages, and individuals they believe are supporting the government, he said.  

Funding ‘critically low’ 

Despite government efforts to reduce the abuses of armed groups, “our teams continue to hear horrific accounts of sexual violence, extortion, and looting”, he said. 

Reiterating the UNHCR’s call for urgent measures to protect civilians, Mr. Cheshirkov warned that funding “for this humanitarian crisis remains critically low. With less than four months from the end of the year, UNHCR has received just 51 per cent of the $205 million dollars required in 2021 for their operation in DRC, leaving the agency “only able to respond to a small fraction of the population in urgent need”.

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‘Unprecedented funding gap’ for 7 million facing hunger in Ethiopia

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Food is distributed in Zelazle in northern Ethiopia, after a convoy reached the region on Monday. © WFP/Claire Nevill

The World Food Programme (WFP) is facing an unprecedented funding gap of $426 million for its operation in Ethiopia, as the UN agency ramps up delivery to meet the needs of up to 12 million people this year. 

This month, WFP started delivering emergency assistance to communities in regions bordering war-torn Tigray. So far, the conflict has forced 300,000 people from their homes and 1.7 million into the nextdoor provinces of Afar and Amhara.  

In coordination with Ethiopia’s Federal and Regional Government authorities, the goal is to reach 530,000 people in Afar and 250,000 people in Amhara. The operation will scale up as needs increase and funding is received. 

In Tigray, food security continues to worsen, and WFP and its partners are struggling to scale up and meet the urgent food needs of 5.2 million people. 

Stocks exhausted 

Food stocks were almost entirely depleted until Monday, when the first convoy for over two weeks entered the region. Over 100 trucks carried 3,500 metric tons of food and other life-saving cargo, including fuel and health and shelter items. 

WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Michael Dunford, welcomed the collaboration from federal and local authorities to ensure the safety of the convoy.  

“But much more is needed, and this momentum must be sustained otherwise we cannot hope to deliver enough food to save millions from falling deeper into hunger,” he added. 

WFP will reach up to 3 million people in the region, an increase of 900,000 since it took over operations in two north-western districts, Shire town and Tahtay Koraro, from its non-governmental food partners. 

“Time is running out for millions across Northern Ethiopia and if we don’t get additional funding right away we will be forced to cut rations or, even worse, halt distributions to some four million people we’re trying to reach in Afar, Amhara and Tigray in the coming months,” said Mr. Dunford. 

Security and funding  

Across Ethiopia, over 13.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure due to the prolonged combined effects of drought, flooding, desert locust invasions, market disruptions, high food prices, and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The situation has only been made worse by the recent conflict spreading across northern parts of the country.  

WFP said it needs the extra $426 million to expand its emergency food assistance response over the next six months. The funds would also provide long-term food security solutions for people as they enter the yearly ‘hunger season’.  

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