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UNHCR West & Central Africa COVID-19 Emergency Response, 5 August 2020

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The West and Central Africa region has seen a 18% percent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks with a total of 167,912 contaminations as of 03 August compared to 141,891 on 20 July 2020.

Since the beginning of the rainy season, heavy rainfalls and floods have hit several hosting areas, especially in the Sahel and Nigeria. This represents an additional challenge to the implementation of preventive measures against COVID-19.

As countries are relaxing their restrictions on movement, UNHCR is stepping up the dissemination of tools and guidance to safely resume in- person protection activities and community engagement.

Operational Context

  • Continuous increase in COVID-19 cases in West and Central Africa. The West and Central Africa region has seen a 18% percent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks with a total of 167,912 contamination as of 03 August compared to 141,891 on 20 July 2020. Nigeria (44,129) remains with the highest number of confirmed cases, followed by Ghana (37,812), Cameroon (17,255), Cote d’Ivoire (16,220) and Senegal (10,432). The number of active cases is stagnating at regional level, Nigeria (22,570) has the highest number, followed by Cote d’Ivoire (4,231), Ghana (3,307), Senegal (3,298) and CAR (2,920). The exact number of COVID-19 cases in the region remains uncertain, particularly given the low levels of testing. Death tolls are also unreliable as they may exclude people who did not die in a hospital, or who died before they could be tested.

  • Relaxing of movement restrictions across the region. In West and Central Africa, governments are still grappling with the negative health and socio-economic impact of COVID-19. Despite the rising number of cases, most states are gradually lifting the preventive measures initially adopted in order to mitigate the social tension and economic slowdown they triggered.

  • Increasing food insecurity in the region. Many refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) faced a significant disruption in their livelihoods and are now at risk of food insecurity. Supply chain challenges, rising food prices and loss of income threaten to leave millions without food across Africa. Levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia are expected to rise with forcibly displaced population being in particularly vulnerable. In this context, WFP and UNHCR have issued a joint statement calling for urgent support from donors and urging governments to ensure that refugees and other displaced populations are included in social safety nets and COVID-19 response plans to ensure their access to food and emergency cash assistance. In Cameroon, WFP was forced to reduce its assistance to refugees from the Central African Republic by 50% in May and June due to funding gaps and, based on current funding levels, will have to stop cash assistance entirely from August. Cuts in rations are also expected for Nigerian refugees in the country.

  • The rainy season adding to existing operational challenges. Since the beginning of the rainy season, heavy rainfalls and floods have hit several hosting areas, especially in the Sahel and in Nigeria. This represents an additional challenge to the implementation of preventive measures against COVID-19. In Burkina Faso, insecurity continues to represent a major challenge to the implementation of UNHCR’s COVID-19 response. The rainy season brought heavy rainfalls further reducing access to displaced populations many of whom are living in flood-prone areas making it harder for them to enforce basic preventive measures against COVID-19. UNHCR is currently working with the authorities to identify safer sites to relocate those most at risk of floods. In Cameroon, the security situation continues to deteriorate in the Far North, hindering UNHCR’s response. On 2 August, an attack on a site hosting 800 IDPs near the village of Nguetchewe, in Cameroon’s Far North region caused the death of 18 people. This attack follows a significant rise in violent incidents in Cameroon’s Far-North Region over in July, including looting and kidnapping by Boko Haram and other armed groups active in the region. In CAR, the insecurity and the political instability related to the upcoming presidential and parliamentarian elections is of concern and hinders UNHCR’s COVID-19 response, in a country where health and WASH facilities are extremely rare. In Mali, the current political tension limits the central government’s ability to focus on the COVID-19 response in a context where regional public health structures have limited capacity and decision-making power. In addition, the security constraints along with the recent rainfalls and floods in high-risk areas where displaced populations are living in Kayes, Gao, Koulikoro, Mopti and Timbuktu, further limit access to remote areas where many Persons of Concern (PoC) are located. In Niger, especially in the regions of Maradi in the South and Tahoua and Tillabery in the Western part of the country, UNHCR’s access is also limited due to the heavy rains and violence. In Nigeria, the main challenge is the difficulty to implement preventive measures in overcrowded IDP sites where recent fire outbreaks and heavy rainfalls hindered UNHCR’s decongestion efforts.