Many families are already starving in Africa. Several parallel crises make the situation even more difficult. Photo: Jules Bosco / USAID

Guest chronicle

"It's not the virus that will kill my children, it's hunger"

In many ways, covid-19 has changed everything in a couple of months in Africa. From another perspective, the virus is rather another of many threats. Because there are several threats to the progress made in many parts of the continent in recent years.

So far in 2020, the first news in many newspapers has been the latest figures on the virus. It is no wonder that much else has disappeared from the limelight. For example, the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo is over. But also that the UN predicts a severe famine for Christmas this year.

That's why the quote in the headline is so important. "It's not the virus that will kill my children, it's hunger," said a mother we spoke to at the humanitarian organization World Vision in a country where we work. The mother describes her reality, and the reality for too many others.

This is the reality for many families.

The virus scares, and it can lead to death for those affected. But the experience in many parts of Africa is that hunger definitely leads there, especially for young children.

Hunger is familiar to many poor people on the continent, and it is a likely consequence of the three crises that are now affecting Africa at the same time.

World Vision has for many years analyzed ongoing crises, and most recently covid-19, through our new analysis method GEOCARR, Good Enough Online Context Analysis for Rapid Response. It is one of the methods, together with previous versions that were not online, that guides our practical work in the almost one hundred countries we work.

GEOCARR has also given us more insight into how institutions such as the development agency Sida can help in these three crises. The process has strengthened our ability to deal with the uncertainty that now exists in the world, and to create time to listen to the right people to create perspective.

The first crisis is that chronic poverty.

To put this into perspective, it is worth remembering that poverty continues to be one of the cornerstones of many other problems. It is also in itself a great challenge for many. Poverty drives many other problems, including malnutrition, lack of education for children, crime and sometimes even open conflict. Extreme poverty has, as Hans Rosling, among others, documented, decreased significantly during the last 50 years around the world. But extreme poverty remains a major problem in parts of Africa. As unemployment now begins to rise rapidly in Africa with covid-19, it will probably also increase poverty.

The second crisis is that emergency.

There are currently a couple of acute crises going on around the African continent. Severe drought in the southern parts of Africa threatens the harvest for many, grasshoppers in eastern Africa threaten the harvest there. At the same time, climate change and conflict are creating problems for millions of people in West Africa. In addition, there are also armed conflicts in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee this year alone, in addition to the millions who were already on the run before.

The Ebola outbreak in DR Congo has been a major concern for the development aid world. That outbreak in northern Kivu province was declared over in June. However, outbreaks of measles and malaria remain in several places. World Vision has worked multisectorally there for many years.

For several years, Mozambique will continue its struggle to recover from cyclone Idai last year. At the same time, it is also likely that more cyclones will come, and they have become increasingly dangerous with climate change. In the shadow of the coronavirus, these receive significantly less space and attention, but also reduced resources to be able to solve.

The third crisis is Covid-19.

Covid-19 has changed a lot in Africa. The virus could kill hundreds of thousands of people in Africa. As a result, the borders around the continent have been closed and the economy and the tourism industry have slowed down sharply. It has also helped to stop healthcare for, for example, measles and malaria from focusing on covid-19, which leads to an increase in other diseases. If the virus were to spread in a similar way as on other continents, Africa would have significantly worse conditions for intensive care compared with countries such as Sweden. The number of respirators in Africa is very small, and it is impossible for many people to rely on access to modern healthcare.

It is in this context that we get to see covid-19. It is a big problem for Africa, but it is not the only problem and it cannot be solved if all the other problems are forgotten in the meantime. The three crises must be understood and met together, and in the long term.

This points to one of the major issues surrounding covid-19 in Africa. Are the primary or secondary consequences of the virus the greatest impact?

The primary consequence is what is often measured by the daily tabulations of the number of confirmed cases of covid-19.

The secondary consequences are those measured in famine, measles cases, financial misery and an increasing number of child soldiers. For a large part of Africa, the secondary consequences are likely to be worse and more long-lasting than the primary ones. Although the primary ones are currently getting more attention. Therefore, it is important that aid actors take the time to listen locally.

For World Vision, one of the most important early steps is to first listen to those who live in the areas where we work - in the almost one hundred countries where the organization is located. It is difficult and time consuming to listen to people who live in remote and inaccessible areas, but it is also a basic precondition for understanding what is happening and for respecting the families who live where we work. Their insights lead to the analysis described above. We build the relationships required for that insight through long-term presence over many years of efforts.

They appreciate World Vision statements Sida has done in these matters, and we hope that they will continue. This applies, for example, to support for other diseases that are otherwise forgotten, as well as long-term work to alleviate the consequences of unemployment. We also hope that the investments Sida and other institutions make will continue to look at the whole. In addition, we hope that the aid actors take the time to listen to the people who are in need of aid - and create space for them to actively participate in the work.

As you know, there are many big questions about how we can best handle covid-19. During the many conversations that are currently taking place in the development assistance industry, it is important to remember that there is already extensive experience of similar work as this.

World Vision, Sida and many other organizations have been doing great and solid work on these issues for a long time. This is not our first crisis, but it is a new crisis that we need to use all our collective knowledge and experience to solve.

Let us remember that now, and deal with the needs we can already today.

This is a chronicle. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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