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COVID-19: Looming Crisis in Developing Countries Threatens to Devastate Economies and Ramp Up Inequality

New York – The growing COVID-19 crisis threatens to disproportionately hit developing countries, not only as a health crisis in the short term but as a devastating social and economic crisis over the months and years to come.

Income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries. With an estimated 55 per cent of the global population having no access to social protection, these losses will reverberate across societies, impacting education, human rights and, in the most severe cases, basic food security and nutrition.

Under-resourced hospitals and fragile health systems are likely to be overwhelmed. This may be further exacerbated by a spike in cases, as up to 75 per cent of people in least developed countries lack access to soap and water.

Additional social conditions, such as poor urban planning and overpopulation in some cities, weak waste disposal services, and even traffic congestion impeding access to healthcare facilities, may all add to the caseload.

“This pandemic is a health crisis. But not just a health crisis. For vast swathes of the globe, the pandemic will leave deep, deep scars,” noted Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “Without support from the international community, we risk a massive reversal of gains made over the last two decades, and an entire generation lost, if not in lives then in rights, opportunities and dignity.”

Working in close coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNDP is helping countries to prepare for, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing particularly on the most vulnerable.

UNDP is already working to support health systems in countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Djibouti, El Salvador, Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Nigeria, Paraguay, Panama, Serbia, Ukraine and Vietnam.

A UNDP-led COVID-19 Rapid Response Facility has already been launched, funded by existing resources and capitalized with an initial US$20 million. This facility is disbursing through a fast-track mechanism enabling UNDP teams to offer immediate assistance to countries for their national response. UNDP anticipates a minimum $500 million need to support 100 countries.

Call to action

UNDP has made a call to action to the international community to think beyond the immediate impact of COVID-19. The organization has emphasized the need for three priority actions: resources to help stop the spread of the virus, support to respond during the outbreak itself, and resources to prevent the economic collapse of developing countries.

As an immediate response, UNDP is building on the support it has been providing to China and other Asian countries to help strengthen their health systems. This includes helping them procure much-needed medical supplies, leverage digital technologies and ensuring health workers are paid.

At the same time, UNDP will support countries to slow the spread of the virus and to provide social protection for vulnerable populations, promoting a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response to complement efforts in the health sector.

In the longer term, UNDP will work with countries to assess the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 and take urgent recovery measures to minimize long-term impact, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized groups, and to help societies to recover better.

Tackling COVID-19 and its impacts will require partners who can work across systems and sectors and in contexts that are both complex and uncertain. With years of experience on the frontlines, this is what UNDP is designed to do. UNDP is fully operational in 170 countries and territories and focused on its COVID-19 response, mobilizing all its assets to respond to this unprecedented challenge.

Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Monrovia, Liberia - September 19, 2014:   Former taxi drivers in Monrovia. Vincent, 24 (in blue) and Junior, 20 (in red), both residents of West Point used to drive motorcycles for a living -- a form of local transport in Liberia used like taxis. After the government banned motorcycles in downtown Monrovia they had to stop. Now, because of Ebola, they can't find any work. They want a job, but no one is hiring so they wait on the side of the street at the entrance of West Point. They are not happy with the government and their response to Ebola. They want a change in leadership. Photo by Morgana Wingard  

Source: Flickr Album ' Ebola Outbreak in West Africa': The Ebola health crisis that has claimed thousands of lives must not be allowed to become a crippling socio-economic crisis as well. Now is the time to ensure these countries can also continue to function and swiftly get back on their feet - see how UNDP is supporting this.         

https://www.flickr.com/photos/37913760@N03/sets/72157648119364049/with/16187510217/ Photo: UNDP/Morgana Wingard
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DFID Goes Quiet on COVID-19 Response

LONDON — The U.K.’s international response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been criticized by insiders as “disappointing” and poorly communicated.

Some observers said the U.K. government’s performance has not been living up to its “development superpower” reputation, as it struggles to manage an outbreak within its own borders.

With the pandemic continuing to gather pace, concerns are rising about the potential impact in low-income countries.

The U.K. on March 6 announced a £46 million ($60 million) aid package to support vaccine and diagnostics development, and it was praised for supporting a rapid test to be produced in Senegal. It later said it would commit up to £150 million for the International Monetary Fund’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help lower-income countries deal with the economic fallout of the crisis.

However, despite holding the world’s third-largest aid budget and a force of aid workers around the world, there has been no further word on plans for the U.K.’s international response.

While acknowledging the challenging circumstances, experts warned that vision was needed to adjust all of its development programming, given the scale of the crisis.

The Department for International Development — the government department largely responsible for aid — has not made a public announcement on its COVID-19 response for two weeks, nor have there been any ministerial statements about how it intends to lead or influence the global response.

DFID’s response has been “very inward-looking” with constraints on spending because of the end of the financial year, according to a staffer who spoke to Devex on condition of anonymity to preserve his job. He added that “bureaucrats, rather than public health experts, were calling the shots” and that there was interference from Foreign & Commonwealth Office officials who joined a London-based task force dealing with the pandemic.

The situation has not been helped by DFID’s secretary of state, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, being in self-isolation as a precaution after being exposed to the virus and — unrelatedly — the unexpected move of the department’s most senior civil servant to another department last week.

Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Dan Carden wrote to Trevelyan this week, urging her to “do more to lead the global response to support the most vulnerable people across the world.”

“We are concerned that DFID – the Department that should be leading Britain’s global response as a humanitarian superpower – has so far been quiet,” Carden and other members of the Labour Party’s international development team wrote.

Mukesh Kapila, professor of global health and humanitarian affairs at the University of Manchester and former head of conflict and humanitarian affairs at DFID, agreed. “It’s disappointing they are not prominent as a major, major donor in taking some kind of lead in financing the response to COVID-19, especially among the most fragile countries,” he said.

Kapila, who is also working on an initiative responding to COVID-19 in Africa, told Devex: “What’s needed, considering the catastrophic nature of this whole crisis … [is] to reorient all the development programs they have, wherever they are, and find resources from existing programs and integrate COVID work within those programs. Otherwise, the development gains that might be achieved … are going to be completely unrealized.”

Citing unprecedented commitments from the British chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in response to the U.K.’s own economic shutdown, Kapila added that “I don’t see the transformative thinking coming out of DFID in the same way that other government departments in the U.K. have been forced to change.” He said DFID would need to completely transform its strategy in the face of the challenge presented.

There was also confusion about how DFID would engage NGOs to help with the COVID-19 response in low-income countries. “We were expecting probably a bit more of a proactive reach out to the sector,” said Laura Taylor, head of advocacy at Christian Aid.

“An announcement of what their [DFID’s] strategy is, what funding options are available for people other than global institutions, and how they would like to work with civil society, both globally at the national level, would be really good to know,” she added.

Kalipso Chalkidou, director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development think tank, said people were trying their best amid difficult circumstances, noting that the global response to COVID-19 generally had been “underwhelming.”

Still, she said, the U.K. could be “more of a shining example.” DFID needs to communicate to other government departments that “whatever the U.K. does, whatever is happening in the developed world, will have direct implications on people’s lives in developing countries, mostly through the economic implications of measures being taken,” she said. “It’s very important to communicate to their colleagues and the public that they are aware this is a global crisis and whatever we do in the G-7 will have direct implications on the poorest countries.”

A DFID spokesperson said there would be more announcements to come on its COVID-19 response.

William Worley

William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the “migrant caravan” in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process.

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COVID-19 Forces International Aid Groups to Limit Travel, Rethink Operations

NEW YORK — Multiple relief and development organizations are eliminating noncritical missions to limit staffers’ exposure to the novel coronavirus, while also creating contingency plans as the global pandemic continues to escalate.

Mercy Corps, Relief International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, and Save the Children are among the nongovernmental organizations issuing new travel restrictions for staff while also rolling out prevention and response plans in impacted and at-risk countries.

“Hopefully it will not impact the work we are doing in the field, with refugees and IDPs [internally displaced people] as much. But as time goes by, it is also restricting training and global seminars where we are supposed to have strategies develop. It is the long-term work that could be affected on a global level,” said Tuva Bogsnes, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

NRC is limiting international travel to critical work and shuttered its headquarters in Oslo, Norway, this week. It is also boosting its water, sanitation, and hygiene work in countries with weak health systems, such as Afghanistan.

“As this affects more and more countries, it is going to be harder for us to find ways for staff to go in and out of countries,” Bogsnes said.

The World Health Organization elevated the COVID-19 outbreak to pandemic status Wednesday. The virus has spread to more than 125,000 people across 118 countries and territories in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S., according to WHO’s latest available estimates.

Experts at relief organizations described a dynamic situation that is requiring them to rapidly develop, and continuously review, staff travel and community engagement policies. The impact on lifesaving work, such as emergency humanitarian response in conflict zones, is still minimal, experts say, but the situation remains fluid. Supply chain shortages present another emerging concern, several global health and development experts told Devex.

The United Nations is also undertaking risk assessments “to evaluate how critical proposed travel is in relation to the risk posed to the traveler,” wrote U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric in an email to Devex. Some cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in countries, such as Iraq, that are already in crisis because of natural disasters or conflicts and have a large number of people in need of emergency assistance.

“To date, the U.N. and partners are maintaining humanitarian operations while taking precautions to ensure staff safety. U.N. agencies are currently assessing where and how humanitarian operations are being disrupted to try to identify solutions as quickly as possible,” Dujarric wrote.

Individual U.N. agencies are adopting their own health security protocols as well. The U.N.’s World Food Programme is limiting all international duty travel to mission-critical and time-sensitive work and postponing all seminars, workshops, and other large meetings, according to spokesperson Shada Moghraby. The United Nations Development Programme is encouraging staff to work remotely, which “reduces the footprint in our offices and mitigates the risk for all involved,” according to Angelique Crumbly, director of UNDP’s Bureau for Management Services.

Several international NGOs also shared their individual health security strategies with Devex:

Plan International has canceled all noncritical international travel and activities through March 31 and is looking at business continuity plans on how field offices could operate in low-, medium-, and high-transmission situations, according to spokesperson Davinder Kumar.

Mercy Corps is restricting travel for all employees through countries under the Global Level 3 Health Advisory by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is undertaking preparedness activities across many of its country offices, according to spokesperson Kelly Hysan.

CARE International has moved to “business critical” travel but continues to undertake programs in compliance with local government restrictions. “The majority of CARE’s programs are continuing where CARE operates,” Chris Williams, director of security at CARE, wrote in an email.

Relief International is now “constantly” reviewing risk levels and authorizing travel on a case-by-case basis, according to Azadeh Hasani, the organization’s global humanitarian director. Relief International continues to respond to the health crisis in Iran and other countries, distributing protective health care equipment to hospitals.

Catholic Relief Services temporarily closed its Beirut and West Bank offices for deep cleaning, and its Cambodia office is now working remotely. Staff can only travel for “mission-critical” work. “It is changing so rapidly that, depending on the situation in each country, we may experience delays, including temporary office closures,” said Marieke van Weerden, director of staff safety and security.

The changes come as development events worldwide continue to be canceled or transitioned to a virtual format, and multiple governments — from the U.S. to Uganda — issue new travel restrictions.

One immediate issue for aid and development agencies is the sudden challenge in procuring health care supplies, according to Relief International’s Hasani.

“We now have a lot of our procurement teams trying to find these items and ship them. In some cases, we are not being able to find them. We really had to go to many suppliers and buy masks from one, goggles from another one,” Hasani said. “It wasn’t easy to find, and yes, in terms of pricing, of course they are more expensive than we would have initially planned for.”

Catholic Relief Services is also thinking through its “call to home” scenarios for international staffers, so they can return to their countries of residence if government travel restrictions escalate.

“The reason why we are going ‘mission-critical’ is not necessarily because of the virus. … It is because of travel restrictions governments put in place. If staffers are quarantined, they cannot work with communities where we need them most,” van Weerden said.

Save the Children has also issued a “blanket pause” on nonessential travel, according to Negin Janati, director of communications for Save the Children’s humanitarian response and emergency work. Save the Children’s China office remains closed, as staffers continue to work from home.

“With the number of cases and community transmissions that are present, we are asking everyone, ‘If you can do a meeting virtually or attend a conference virtually, do it that way,’” Janati said. “We have colleagues who are helping run pandemic-preparedness workshops throughout Asia, Middle East, and Africa. Their work is mission-critical, and they have to travel for it.”

The changes are challenging the traditional methods of work that Save the Children uses, leading it to pause and consider the feasibility of virtual training sessions or online partnerships and advocacy meetings.

“We live in a digital world and are used to doing things digitally, but there are certain things, like community engagement, that I do not know if people have considered how to do that exclusively online. We are just having to make it work,” Janati said.

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Back Poor Countries Fighting COVID-19 with Trillions or Face Disaster, G20 Told

Economists and global health experts have called on G20 leaders to provide trillions of dollars to poorer countries to shore up ailing healthcare systems and economies, or face a disaster that will rebound on wealthier states through migration and health crises.

Twenty experts, among them four Nobel prizewinners, including Joseph Stiglitz, Lord Nicholas Stern and seven chief economists of the World Bank and other development banks, have written to G20 leaders to warn of “unimaginable health and social impacts” as coronavirus rips through the developing world, taking overburdened healthcare systems beyond breaking point, and causing economic and social devastation.

Countries are “falling apart because of the collapse in commodity prices, tourism and remittances”, said the signatories, even before the ravages of the virus itself takes hold across south-east Asia, Latin America and Africa, where at least 43 out of 54 countries have confirmed cases.

The G20 held a virtual meeting by video conference on Thursday to discuss the Covid-19 crisis.

Poorer countries are likely to be hit harder than rich states, since they have less capacity to absorb the shock and overcrowding, poor infrastructure and lack of resources hamper public health efforts. Basic hygiene and a lack of handwashing facilities and soap will be a major issue for poorer people.

“Developing countries are facing an unprecedented collective threat to human life, social cohesion and economic devastation,” the letter to the G20 leaders said. “Massive economic losses will be incurred as countries desperately try to cope, people will migrate out of fear as the epidemic takes hold, leading to social disruption, violence and security issues.”

The group wants swift action to devote emergency spending to stricken developing countries, and longer-term reforms that make nations more resilient to outbreaks and natural disasters.

At least $8bn (£6.5bn) in emergency funding has been requested by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, but that should be just the beginning according to the letter’s signatories, who make it clear that the money required will be “of a different order of magnitude” to the amounts pledged so far.

The US is implementing a rescue package worth about $2tn, the UK government is spending more than £330bn on its recovery, and other countries are coming up with packages of their own. Poorer nations will need far greater levels of assistance than have yet been planned, according to the letter.

Erik Berglof, director of the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics, and an organiser of the letter, told the Guardian: “If it will take more than $2tn, perhaps as much as $6tn, to fix the US, we are not going to fix the rest of the world for less. To attach a specific number now is almost meaningless. What we need are new and creative ways of using the global financial muscle to back up existing international financial institutions.”

He said that emergency resources and medical help could be provided quickly, but it was important to manage the process with a long-term view, expanding existing international institutions and programmes. “You cannot sprinkle money from helicopters in these economies because it would never reach the intended receivers,” he said. “You need carefully managed programmes and projects that can help these countries through this extremely difficult period.”

Infrastructure investment would be vital to ensure recovery from a shock that, the economists said, would be greater than that of the 2008 financial crisis.
‘We fear, but have to work’: isolation not an option for the poor of Nairobi
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If efforts to control Covid-19 fail, “the virus could become endemic, producing new waves of destructive outbreaks around the world”, the letter warned, adding: “We have a rapidly closing window to ensure that we give these countries at least a fighting chance to manage the crisis and provide some light at the end of what could be a long tunnel.”

The letter concludes: “We are now urging you, the leaders of the G20, to urgently provide the necessary resources to reduce the losses in human life and back up those most vulnerable. The required investment is minute compared to the social and economic costs of inaction. History will judge us harshly if we do not get this right.”

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Uncertainty in Ending Extreme Poverty – Brookings

Whereas sustained economic growth is considered the primary driver of poverty alleviation, the different ways in which growth interacts with changes in income inequality mean that the future of poverty reduction is highly uncertain.

In a recently published working paper, I use historical (1980-2014) data to model and simulate future paths of income inequality and growth, which, in turn, enable us to quantify country-specific changes in poverty rates and income distribution. Our historical-based simulations estimate that the probability of alleviating extreme poverty below the 3 percent threshold by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 1) at the global level is small—less than 2 percent.

Furthermore, our results indicate significant variation in future poverty outcomes. For instance, by 2030, the most favorable estimate of poverty headcount at the global level displays a median value of 4.6 percent, with a standard deviation of 0.5. Conversely, our most pessimistic result shows a median outcome of 8.9 percent with a standard deviation of 0.9. These median estimates represent approximately 370 and 720 million people around the world subsisting on less than $1.90 a day (2011 PPP).

In terms of country groupings, in relative terms, extreme poverty is expected to decline in the period 2015-2030 in economies with low, middle, and high rates of per capita output growth. However, in low-output growth economies, the absolute number of poor is expected to increase. The model simulations also predict that high-output growth economies—countries with steady growth rates above 4 percent—will reach poverty rates below a 3 percent level before 2030. Noticeably, the simulations display a low degree of uncertainty around the expected poverty rates in these high-output growth countries.

Moreover, non-resource-output oriented—or more diversified—economies, are predicted to achieve and go below the 3 percent poverty target by 2030. By contrast, several simulation exercises show resource-based economies witnessing an increase in absolute poverty during the period 2015-2030. We find significant dispersion in the estimated paths of poverty outcomes in these resource-based countries, implying that given recent history, it is hardly possible to predict precise estimates of poverty rates in these economies.

Resource-based economies. What is the current and future poverty situation in countries that rely heavily on natural resources? Figure 1 depicts two conditions. First, most countries with abundant natural resource rents in the period 1970-2015 have high rates of extreme poverty. Second, the majority of countries with high poverty headcounts had median annual growth rates of GDP per capita during 1970-2014 below the 4 percent threshold. In sum, it is quite likely that resource-based countries will keep elevated poverty rates by 2030: The most optimistic and pessimistic simulations show median poverty rates of 9 and 20 percent, respectively.

What can resource-based countries do? The main goal in resource-based countries can be the same as for the majority of countries in the world with high poverty rates: to expand the economy more quickly. Because of the volatility of resource prices, the primary strategy could focus on providing more stable economic and financial conditions. This strategy can be reached by developing sustainable debt management frameworks, improving investment and business climates, as well as implementing more transparent and accountable rules to administer resource rents. Additionally, these economies can benefit from strengthening their institutions, including those involving risk management backgrounds. Potential reforms include fiscal rules (probably balanced budget designs) for commodity revenues,
commodity price hedging, diversification strategies of the economic activities, among other actions.

Income inequality. What do the simulations suggest about shifts in income inequality? Most changes in relative income inequality are predicted to be on the positive side. The Gini coefficient across the board is generally predicted to decrease on average over the period 2015-2030. Across this 2015-2030 horizon, our estimates of the Gini coefficient at the global level—population-weighted averages—are expected to decline between 0.7 and 1.9 Gini points (in the Gini scale of 0-100). However, some of our country-grouping estimates of the Gini coefficient display substantial uncertainty and downside risks that imply an increase in the level of inequality in the 2015-2030 period; these negative estimates are especially significant in more diversified countries, and in economies with historically high and low rates of output per capita growth.

A multiplicity of historical-based results exacerbate uncertainty. In comparison with point predictions and perfect-foresight methods, our approach considers both the outcome precision of a multitude of historical-based scenarios and the uncertainty—standard deviation of simulated outcomes—embedded in the predictive fan chart generated for each situation. This multiplicity of results and the predictive fan chart and associated uncertainty provide strong incentives for the improved design of policies for poverty reduction and income redistribution. It is crucial to continue thinking in the design of
hedging mechanisms against risks under variable economic environments affecting poverty and income distribution.

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World Hunger on the Rise as 820m at Risk, UN Report Finds

More than 820 million people worldwide are still going hungry, according to a UN report that says reaching the target of zero hunger by 2030 is “an immense challenge”.

The number of people with not enough to eat has risen for the third year in a row as the population increases, after a decade when real progress was made. The underlying trend is stabilisation, when global agencies had hoped it would fall.

Millions of children are not getting the nutrition they need. The UN says the pace of progress in halving child stunting and reducing the number of low birthweight babies is too slow, which jeopardises the chances of achieving another of the sustainable development goals.
Nearly half of all child deaths in Africa stem from hunger, study shows
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The report is from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef), the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.

While hunger remains widespread, obesity – also related to malnutrition – continues to rise in all regions. There are 338 million school-age children and adolescents who are overweight and 672 million obese adults. Asia and Africa, which have nine out of 10 of all stunted children and more than nine out of 10 of all wasted children worldwide, are also home to nearly three-quarters of all overweight children worldwide, largely driven by unhealthy diets.

One in seven babies around the world were born with low birthweight in 2015, the report says, many of them to adolescent mothers. That puts them at risk of poor development.

The world’s population has steadily grown, with most people living in urban areas. Technology has “evolved at a dizzying pace, while the economy has become increasingly interconnected and globalised”, say the heads of the UN agencies in a foreword to the report.

“Many countries, however, have not witnessed sustained growth as part of this new economy. The world economy as a whole is not growing as much as expected.”

Climate breakdown is affecting agriculture and the number of farmers has declined. “All of this has led to major shifts in the way in which food is produced, distributed and consumed worldwide – and to new food security, nutrition and health challenges.”

Hunger is increasing in countries where economic growth is lagging and there is income inequality.

“Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder,” the UN leaders say. “We must foster pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the centre to reduce economic vulnerabilities and set ourselves on track to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition.”

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Nigeria Needs $24bn to Lift People Out of poverty — Oxfam

Oxfam has said it will cost about $24bn to lift all Nigerians living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 out of poverty for one year.

The international organisation revealed in a new report that 69 per cent of Nigerians were living below the poverty line, adding, “Nigeria runs the most expensive governments in the world, with an over-bloated civil service, government advisers and aides, whose salaries are often very high.”

According to the report, the government at national and sub-national levels has been worsening inequality by under-funding public service, such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation and women’s empowerment.

The Interim Country Director, Oxfam Nigeria, Constant Tchona, gave the details in Abuja during the launch of the first regional report on the commitment to reducing inequality index.

The report said, “It will cost about $24bn to lift all Nigerians living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 out of poverty for one year. This amount of money is just lower than the total wealth owned overall by the five richest Nigerians in 2016, which was equal to $29.9bn.

“Poverty in Nigeria is particularly outrageous because it has been growing in the context of an expanding economy where the benefits have been reaped by a minority of people, and have bypassed the majority of the population.”

According to Tchona, the richest man in Nigeria will take 42 years to spend all of his wealth at one million per day.

He said, “According to Oxfam’s calculations, the amount of money that the richest Nigerian man can earn annually from his wealth is sufficient to lift two million people out of poverty for one year.”

“The gap between the rich and the poor may be a worldwide problem but in Nigeria the scale of inequality is staggering. Nigeria is the only oil-producing nation in the league of five countries with the largest number of poor people. Official poverty rates remain high, at 46 per cent of the population or 62 per cent in strict per capita terms.”

He added, “Though the country’s economy has expanded at an average of six per cent every year since 2006, the paradox of growth in Nigeria is that as the country gets richer, more than half of its 200 million-strong population continues to live in abject poverty.

“With the misapplication of resources and priorities, economic growth in Nigeria has not created meaningful opportunities and employment as many of the country’s youth, including those with university degrees, are currently unemployed.”

Tchona outlined measures that should be taken by the government to end inequality in Nigeria.

He said, “There is an urgent need to critically examine the culture of governance and break the policies and norms that sustain the concentration of wealth and income at the top, to forestall the self-perpetuating cycle of inequality that subjugates many and sustain poverty in Nigeria.”

He said economic policies and development strategies should be formulated in a participatory manner and should have at the core reducing inequality as a key principle.

Tchona said the government should take urgent actions to bring down the cost of governance.

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New UN Report Reveals that Hunger in Africa Continues to Rise

20 June 2019, Addis Ababa – Hunger in Africa continues to rise after many years of decline, threatening the continent’s hunger eradication efforts to meet the Malabo Goals 2025 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2). New data presented in the joint UN report, the Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, released today, indicates that 237 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are suffering from chronic undernutrition, derailing the gains made in the past years.

The joint report by the Regional Office for Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was launched today in Addis Ababa at an event presided by FAO’s Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo.

It shows that more people continue to suffer from undernourishment in Africa than in any other region – evidence suggests that in 2017, 20 percent of the African population was undernourished.

“The worsening trend in Africa is due to difficult global economic and worsening environmental conditions and, in many countries, conflict and climate variability and extremes, sometimes combined. Economic growth slowed in 2016 due to weak commodity prices, in particular for oil and minerals. Food insecurity has worsened in countries affected by conflict, often exacerbated by drought or floods. For example, in Southern and Eastern Africa, many countries suffered from drought,” FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel, and ECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, said in their joint foreword of the report.

Of the 257 million hungry people in Africa, 237 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and 20 million in Northern Africa. The annual UN report indicates that compared to 2015, there were an additional 34.5 million more undernourished people in Africa, of which 32.6 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 1.9 million in Northern Africa. Nearly half of the increase is due to the rise in the number of undernourished people in Western Africa, while another third is from Eastern Africa.

At the regional level, the prevalence of stunting in children under five is falling, but only few countries are on track to meet the global nutrition target for stunting. The number of overweight children under five continues to rise and is particularly high in Northern and Southern Africa. According to the regional report, progress towards meeting the World Health Organization’s global nutrition targets is slow at the continental level.

In many countries, notably in Eastern and Southern Africa, adverse climatic conditions due to El Niño led to a decline in agricultural production and soaring staple food prices. The economic and climatic situation has improved in 2017, but some countries continue to be affected by drought or poor rainfall.

Greater efforts and collaboration needed to achieve SDG 2

The report reveals that more efforts are needed to achieve SDG2 and the global nutrition targets amidst the important challenges faced by the continent, such as tackling youth employment and climate change. Agriculture and the rural sector must play a key role in creating decent jobs for the 10 to 12 million youths that join the labour market each year. Another present and growing threat to food security and nutrition in Africa, particularly to countries relying heavily on agriculture, is climate change. The effects of climate change, reduced precipitation and higher temperatures negatively influence the yields of staple food crops.

At the same time, there are significant opportunities for agriculture in developing intra-African trade, harnessing remittances for development, and investing in youth. Remittances from international and internal migration play an important role in reducing poverty and hunger as well as stimulating productive investments. International remittances amount to nearly $70 billion, about three percent of Africa’s GDP, and present an opportunity for national development that governments should work on to strengthen.

The signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement provides an opportunity to accelerate growth and sustainable development by increasing trade, including trade in agricultural products. Although agricultural intra-African exports rose from $2 billion in 2000 to $13.7 billion in 2013, they remain relatively modest and often informal. The report highlights that opening trade of food also carries risks to consumer and producer welfare, and governments should avoid using trade policy for multiple objectives but rather combine trade reform with additional instruments, such as safety nets and risk-mitigating programmes, to achieve food security and nutrition goals.

Call for greater action to address the threat from climate variability and extremes

This year’s Regional Overview, entitled, “Addressing the Threat from Climate Variability and Extremes for Food Security and Nutrition,” illustrates that climate variability and extremes, in part due to climate change, are important factors underlying the recent rise in food insecurity and severe food crises on the continent.

Many countries in Africa are at great risk to climate-related disasters and suffer from them frequently. Over the last ten years, climate-related disasters affected on average 16 million people and caused annually $0.67 billion in damages across the continent. Although not all of these shorter-term climate variations may be attributable to climate change, the evidence presented shows that more numerous and more frequent occurrences of climate extremes and a rise in climate variability are threatening to erode gains made towards ending hunger and malnutrition.

FAO and ECA stressed, “Greater urgency in building resilience of households, communities and countries to climate variability and extremes is needed. We need to face myriad of challenges to building institutional capacity in designing, coordinating and scaling up actions for risk monitoring and early warning systems, emergency preparedness and response, vulnerability reduction measures, shock-responsive social protection, and planning and implementing resilience-building measures. Strategies towards climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction must be aligned as well as coordinated with interventions in nutrition and food systems across sectors.”

In terms of developing climate adaptation strategies and implementation, the report highlights the need for greater efforts in data collection, monitoring and implementation of climate smart agriculture practices. Continued efforts through partnerships, blending climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and long-term financing can bridge humanitarian and development approaches.

Key facts and figures

-Number of hungry people in Africa: 257 million or 1 in every 5 people
-Children under five affected by stunting (low height-for-age): 59 million (30.3 percent)
-Children under five affected by wasting (low weight-for-height): 13.8 million (7.1 percent)
-Children under five who are overweight (high weight-for-height): 9.7 million (5 percent)
-Percentage of women of reproductive age affected by anaemia: 38 percent
-Percentage of infants aged below 6 months who were exclusively breastfed: 43.5 percent
-Percentage of adults who are obese: 11.8 percent

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The App that’s Improving Antenatal Care in Cameroon and Beyond

Using mobile technology, the GiftedMom platform offers vital health advice and emergency transport to pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa

Over lunch at a recent workshop, Agbor Ashu, the co-founder and medical director of social enterprise GiftedMom, showed me a small icon of a pregnant woman on his smartphone: “That’s the app,” he says. “You just click here and land on this homepage where you have multiple options: if you’re a mother-to-be, you can get advice based on your pregnancy stage; if you have a new-born baby, you can read about special care. You can also reach out to our medical team on duty via the chat and get reminders about your doctor’s appointment.” Noting the perplexed look on my face, he adds: “You’d be surprised how many women forget their doctor’s appointments – they have a thousand other preoccupations on their minds.”

Ashu believes simple solutions can be the most effective ones when it comes to improving people’s lives. After finishing medical school in Yaoundé, Cameroon, he entered government, enticed by the promise of stable employment. For a young doctor who believed in large-scale solutions for the healthcare sector, he soon realised it wasn’t enough for him. “Sitting at the hospital every day waiting for people to get sick would have limited the impact I wanted to create in society,” says Ashu.

In early 2015, Ashu started sharing his vision for improving access to healthcare with more senior colleagues. The encouragement he received from them was all he needed to kickstart things.

In October of the same year, having been introduced to Alain Nteff, who would later become GiftedMom’s co-founder, Ashu started engaging with different partners, including the Ministry of Public Health. With a stipend of about $80 per month, he was relying on friends to make ends meet. Many of his peers and relatives felt his ambitions were short-term and underdeveloped: “My parents needed me to be secure. I was advised to return to … continue working in the government, but deep within me, I knew what I had to do and resisted going back.”

Together with Nteff, Ashu set up GiftedMom, which aims to improve maternal health using mobile technologies. The platform helps pregnant women in underserved areas – initially in Cameroon, and now across Africa – have safe pregnancies and combats the lack of access and knowledge that has led to high mother and infant deaths in the country.

Capitalising on the high and growing number of mobile devices in sub-Saharan Africa, GiftedMom uses a customised SMS notification and voice education platform that expecting and new mothers can register for to receive advice about their health, including why it’s imperative to have regular check-ups. “There is a one-off subscription fee of less than $1. After that, customers can receive messages free of charge, including alerts for when vaccinations for newborns are due,” says Ashu.
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The GiftedMom smartphone app was designed for both offline and online data collection, and can be used by community workers and medical personnel to register pregnant women and new mothers. Women can register for the service by using a toll-free code. In order to reach the estimated 35% of Cameroonian women who are illiterate, the team also developed voice technology in four widely spoken traditional languages.

An additional facet of GiftedMom’s services is its transport system. A woman with an emergency can alert the GPS Tricycle Transport, which will pick her up and take her to a health centre for treatment. The app provides mapping and location details, even for rural areas, and uses cell-tower triangulation technology to function without internet access. The tricycles are equipped with beds and another seat for health personnel.

There is huge scope for Ashu and his team to expand their services across the continent, as sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest growing mobile market today. There were 420m unique mobile subscribers in the region in late 2016, equivalent to a 43% penetration rate, with more than half a billion subscribers predicted by 2020. Mobile has emerged as the continent’s platform of choice for creating, distributing and consuming innovative digital solutions and services.

The mobile industry also plays an increasingly vital role in the social and economic development of the region: mobile connectivity has become the driving force for greater inclusion, while the mobile ecosystem, including network operators and device vendors, contributes significantly to economic growth and jobs. Many innovators and tech entrepreneurs like Ashu and Nteff are using the expansion of advanced mobile infrastructure in Africa and the growing adoption of smart devices to deliver solutions that directly respond to people’s primary needs. Across the region, mobile tech is enabling life-enhancing services that directly support the sustainable development goals (SDGs), complementing the efforts of governments and their development partners.

To date, GiftedMom has reached 120,000 pregnant women and mothers in rural and urban communities in Cameroon. This has increased the rate of antenatal care by an average of 80% and the rate of vaccination by 90%. And the company is not lacking ambition. In July, GiftedMom joined UNDP’s Business Call to Action with a pledge to expand its operations in three new African countries – Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Kenya.

Public health concerns, coupled with mobile penetration, represent a unique opportunity for inclusive businesses. With the vision of reaching 5 million users in the next three years across Africa, GiftedMom is unlocking a new market of consumers and I am convinced that they will be a major contributor to the realisation of the SDGs.

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Opinion – How Social Entrepreneurs are using Tech-based Solutions to Tackle Global Poverty

Social entrepreneur Jack Sim argues that digital technology can be used to create opportunities for the world’s poorest populations, but a joined-up approach from stakeholders is needed.

The challenge of ending poverty for the world’s 3.7 billion poor is larger than any one entity can solve. Crucially, this task also presents a market opportunity so large that there is more than enough work for all active stakeholders to engage in. More than ever before, digital technology is making these opportunities easier to harness.

With technology now increasingly accessible – through cheap smartphones, e-payment and e-commerce systems – farmers can be connected directly to buyers, bypassing the need for a middleman, and thus reducing transaction costs and increasing independence.

These changes can have significant knock-on effects in other parts of their lives: with better prices, they can buy improved seeds to grow superior crops, which fetch higher prices. With extra income, farmers can send their kids to school or study online through free massive open online courses (Moocs). They can access “e-health” services, where doctors in cities diagnose patients in remote villages through video calls, and medications are dispensed at local village pharmacies. They can buy solar panels to pump water from boreholes, which can be filtered using affordable water tech, creating business opportunities to sell clean drinking water.

As more such trades are operated by the villagers themselves, velocity of money increases and local GDP rises, thus creating jobs and improving access to more quality of life products such as clothing, hairdressing and beauty products, handicrafts, micro-insurance, toilets and more.

As social entrepreneurs, we can help facilitate this growth. But first, we must remind ourselves that we do not own the poor. They are not the tools for our survival, or our road to glory. If we truly want to support them to rise from poverty, we should muster the combined power of all stakeholders to help them. We also need to persuade foreign aid and donors to fund a whole ecosystem approach instead of working in silos or competing wastefully.

We can borrow the Nine Basic Principles of Biomimicry by Janine Benyus when building our tech-driven ecosystems tailored to the low-income marketplace.

Here is my translation of the principles into practical actions:

1. Nature runs on sunlight
Solar energy tech can be scaled up to all off-grid communities. With energy, we can deliver water pumps, drip irrigation, wifi access, lighting, refrigeration, education, e-health, e-commerce, e-payment and more.

2. Nature uses only the energy it needs
Scale up our impact without scaling up our overheads. Don’t duplicate work.

3. Nature fits form to function
Blockchain has the potential to unblock any bureaucracy that hinders function.

4. Nature recycles everything
Recycle all proven ideas and don’t waste the opportunity to copy each other.
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5. Nature rewards cooperation
Collaboration makes mission delivery cheaper, faster, better and easier. Those outside the collaborative ecosystem may become inefficient by comparison and become motivated to join the ecosystem.

6. Nature banks on diversity
We should bank on the diversity of our combined talents.

7. Nature demands local expertise
Decentralise and democratise distribution to local communities without having hierarchical cost structures.

8. Nature curbs excesses from within
Don’t spend excessively large amounts of time fundraising. Focus on leveraging peers to help you deliver impact wider and faster, so as to grow without overheads.

9. Nature taps the power of limits
Do only what you are good at and let the others do the rest in collaboration with you.

We know that there are already more than 4,000 proven social entrepreneurial business solutions that we can replicate. Technologies available span sectors such as agritech, energy, water, sanitation, e-payment, e-commerce, logitech, edutech, housing, e-health, fintech and smart city public policy, to name a few. We know that businesses want to open up this very exciting “base-of the-pyramid” (BoP) marketplace. We know that we do not have the trillions of dollars needed to deliver the 17 sustainable development goals. But if we can convert a significant portion into social business investments, and combine this with proven business models, we can solve the problem at exponential scale and speed, and at a much lower cost than traditional methods.

On my part, I’m building a 65,000 sq ft BoP design centre in Singapore. We want this to become a world trade centre for the poor and invite all interested parties to co-create and co-design the working mechanism so that it can become a replicable, open-source model. The idea is that anyone could start a similar centre around the world, allowing more social businesses to be connected with each other across borders as we strive to achieve a common goal: to improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.

This is our business call to action.

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