Vera Songwe, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), says between 49 million and 161 million Africans may have fallen into COVID-19 induced poverty.
Songwe stated this in her presentation on Monday at the opening of the 53rd ministerial session of the ECA and the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, holding in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The conference, monitored via webinar by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), drew participants from across Africa and other development partners across the world.
They included Mr Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia; Ms Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados; and Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, Minister of Finance, Ghana.
Others were Baroness Minouche Shafik, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and former Deputy Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF); and Mr Mohamed Benchaamoun, Minister of Economy, Finance and Administration Reform, Morocco.
Songwe arrived at the figure based on the growth elasticity of poverty change approach, and with economic growth contractions of 1.8–5.4 per cent in 2020, among other indicators.
According to the ECA boss, poverty in Africa is both extensive and deep.
She said more than one billion people, representing more than 80 per cent of the total population, have a mean consumption of less than $5.50/day (PPP).
Songwe added that two-thirds of the population live in countries with mean consumption of less than $1.90/day, adding that social assistance spending in Africa is far less than that of other regions.
“Globally, social assistance spending ranges from $6.1 billion in Africa to $290 billion in North America.
“On per-capita basis, the 30 countries in Africa, for which data is available, spend only USD 10 per capita on social protection, against USD 361 per capita in East Asia and the Pacific and USD 442 per capita in North America,” Songwe said.
In his presentation, Ethiopian Prime Minister Ahmed said amidst rapid global technological and environmental shifts and a new normal introduced by COVID-19, African leaders are tasked with developing innovative responses.
He said innovations needed to respond to the livelihood needs and prosperity aspirations of a growing youth population, particularly, one year later into the COVID-19.
“Africa has demonstrated it is not only capable of facing this crisis, but it is also ready to help formulate and implement solutions..
“Africa was in a race to embrace economic diversification, the fourth industrial revolution and digitalisation in a sustainable and inclusive way.
“COVID-19 came to test our readiness and our resilience. From the crisis we have not only demonstrated Africa’s readiness to confront challenges, but also Africa’s steadfast commitment to focusing on growth through innovation resilience.
“From the crisis we have not only demonstrated Africa’s readiness to confront challenges but also Africa’s innovation,” he said.
Similarly, Ofori-Atta said Africa is at a profound turning point, noting that in 2020, Africa showed remarkable resilience against the odds, effectively curbing the global pandemic’s initial wave.
“Africa’s GDP contracted by 2.1 per cent (African Economic Outlook 2021) compared to a 3.5 per cent contraction in global GDP (World Bank).
“However, the second wave has depleted our buffers, our economies are contracting, and we are witnessing sharp increases in infections and deaths. These developments are overwhelming our health systems.
“As a result, the Real GDP in Africa is projected to grow by 3.4 per cent in 2021(African Economic Outlook 2021), compared to the projected global growth of 5.5 per cent (IMF, World Economic Outlook).
“The COVID-19 crisis brought political, economic and social disruptions, which have fundamentally changed the traditional context for decision making.
“For Africa, we are staring down the prospect of uneven economic growth unless we get our build-back strategy right,” Offori-Atta said.