Wednesday, April 29, 2020

COVID19 - Are Palliatives Working?

Few African countries have social safety nets to catch people if they lose their jobs. The precarious existence for those workers in the informal sector, and the large numbers of relatives who rely on them, means that the halting of economic activity could spell disaster.
25-year-old Ugandan Richard Kabanda is worried about feeding his family. The motorbike taxi driver, who used to earn about $2 (£1.60) a day, has had no work since the government banned public transport last month as part of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
"We are going to die because there is nothing we can do," he told the BBC from his house, which is in a slum, close to the swamps by Lake Victoria. "We are going to die inside our homes because we will run out of food yet we've been told not to leave our homes."
Once his savings had run out, he had hoped to benefit from a food distribution programme that the government promised to 1.5 million of those most in need. His experience was typical of the more than four out of five African workers who survive day-to-day in the informal sector and have no access to state assistance.
Ronak Gopaldas, director of the South Africa-based risk management company, Signal Risk.
"If people don't work, they don't eat. Ongoing lockdowns are unsustainable in their current forms."
Jane Barrett, who works in South Africa for Wiego, an organisation that supports women in informal employment, says that things are currently "pretty dire on the ground". People are relying on food parcels that are being distributed by charities and civil society organisations but "we are hearing heart-breaking stories all the time of people not being reached in rural areas and whole informal settlements where food distribution has hardly touched", she adds.
Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, explains, "Given the greater formalisation of South Africa's economy it is able to come up with its package," she adds. "But this is the difficulty for many countries - it is incredibly hard for governments across the region to reach out to those who operate in the informal sector. This is a key hurdle."
Rachel Strohm, a researcher into poverty alleviation policies, told the BBC, as "cash transfers are a well-proven means of supporting vulnerable people during times of crisis". But she highlighted the lack of clarity over the recipients. If it is to be distributed among all 18.6 million Kenyans who live below the poverty line of $2 a day, it would not last long.
Rwanda and Uganda are for the moment relying on using food handouts to sustain the most needy. But in Uganda, they may not be reaching everyone who is hungry. The Ugandan motorbike taxi driver, Mr Kabanda, said that he had not yet received a food parcel a fortnight after the food scheme was announced.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with some 200 million people, has ordered a lockdown in its commercial hub, Lagos, the neighbouring state of Ogun and the capital Abuja. 
President Muahammadu Buhari has announced a series of what he described as "palliative measures", among them expanding the number of households included in a cash transfer scheme from 2.6 million to 3.6 million. This should mean that just under 10% of the population will receive $13 a month. It is meant only for the very poorest and what happens to the rest is not clear. But the BBC's Nduka Orjinmo in Lagos says it is hard to see how anyone can survive on $13 for a month, even if it was only spent on food.

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