At the virtual launch of a UN briefing paper focusing on the impact of COVID-19 across Africa, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that citizens across the continent have done much to advance their own well-being, detailing strong economic growth, an on-going digital revolution, and a bold free-trade area agreement.
Villagers in Kasungu District in Malawi watch a demonstration of a drone in flight.
But, he added: “The pandemic threatens African progress”.
The UN chief elaborated on the coronavirus’ potential to aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease, saying “much hangs in the balance”.
Demand for Africa’s commodities, together with tourism and remittances, are in decline, he observed. “The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back – and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty”.
Moreover, the virus has taken more than 2,500 African lives: “Vigilance and preparedness are critical”, underscored Mr. Guterres.
‘Spectrum of urgent challenges’
Noting that while UN agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers continue to provide support, “a spectrum of urgent challenges”, require more urgent assistance.
“We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings”, the UN chief spelled out.
Guterres echoed his call for a global response package amounting to some 10 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and advocated for “across-the-board debt standstill”, followed by targeted debt relief.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, school children attend a parade in South Africa.
“It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism”, he continued, noting that upcoming elections “offer potential milestones for stability and peace”.
The UN chief underscored that as women will be central to every aspect of the response, stimulus packages must prioritize increasing social protection and putting cash in their hands.
“Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout”, Guterres said. Moreover, African youth must be empowered, and human rights respected.
In closing, he asserted that Africa was still in the early days of coronavirus infection, compared with other continents, warning that disruption could escalate quickly.
“Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world”, concluded the Secretary-General.