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Extreme poverty rises in West Africa due to COVID-19 pandemic

Abuja, Nigeria – Extreme poverty in Western Africa increased by nearly 3 percent last year, according to a new report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 published today by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The report, completed in partnership with the West Africa Sub-Regional Office for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), indicates that the proportion of people in the region living with less than $1.90 a day increased from 2.3 per cent in 2020 to 2.9 per cent in 2021. The debt burdens of countries in the region have also increased in the context of slow economic recovery, shrinking fiscal space and weak resource mobilization.

The COVID-19 impact study highlights the effects of the preventive measures including border closures, movement restrictions, and the disruption of supply chains. All these measures disrupted income-generating activities and exacerbated food price increases in the markets. The most affected are people who rely on unstable income sources such as small traders, street vendors and casual workers.

This deteriorating economic situation has adversely affected the food security and nutrition situation of women, men, and children. More than 25 million people in West Africa are unable to meet their basic food needs in the region, an increase of 34% compared to 2020. The situation is most severe in conflict-affected areas such as the Lake Chad Basin, Liptako-Gourma and the Sahel region, forcing people to sell their assets and livelihoods to meet their food needs.

“The Coronavirus health crisis has particularly annihilated the benefits gained by ECOWAS and its Member States in the fight against food insecurity and malnutrition” said Sekou SANGARE, ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water resources.

“Even if we are happy with the governments’ response through the mitigation actions they have taken, we have to worry about the residual effects of the health and economic crisis as they are likely to continue disturbing our food systems for a long time while compromising populations access to food due to multiples factors.”

The publication of this report comes in a context marked by a fragile regional economy that is not dynamic enough to allow families to regain their pre-crisis social and economic well-being. The results of this study will enable public and private actors to provide appropriate and resolute responses to the negative impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people in West Africa.

“The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 calls for immediate and concerted actions to further strengthen people’s resilience and capacity to withstand shocks” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa. “This report clearly shows the urgent need for Governments and partners to deliberately increase investments to strengthen and increase social protection programs, social safety-nets such as school meals, and other livelihoods-enhancing programs with particular emphasis on women and youth.”

The Director of the ECA's West Africa Sub-Regional Office, Ngone Diop, stressed that one of the strengths of the ECOWAS-WFP-ECA partnership was to "carry out an online survey, which has mobilized nearly 8,000 survey respondents in just two editions."

Moreover, Mrs Diop said "basing our analyses on primary, first-hand data from households directly impacted by the health crisis makes it possible to offer decision-makers at the regional and national levels with relevant and better-targeted policy options.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, ECOWAS and its partners have put in place various economic and financial measures to respond to the increasing needs caused by COVID-19 in the region. In close collaboration with the West African Health Organization (WAHO), ECOWAS mobilized nearly US$ 38 million in the first half of 2021 to meet the needs of the population.

The ECOWAS Member States, with the support of their technical partners including WFP, have implemented an unprecedented expansion of social protection programmes, as well as food distributions, for the most vulnerable communities. In Mali and Niger, for example, WFP, in partnership with UNICEF and with funding from the German Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), is supporting 1.4 million people and helping to strengthen national social protection systems to make them more responsive to shocks and more sensitive to nutrition.

“WFP is committed to engage more with ECOWAS in enhancing coordination and facilitating experience sharing among countries, with the aim to ensure social protection systems in the region support food security and nutrition and provide resilience to shocks.” Nikoi insisted.