Brussels - 22 April 2020 | The Covid-19 crisis is leading to instability in both local and global food markets and concerns are growing about how that will have repercussions on security, justice and governance. Fragile contexts are at risk of becoming increasingly so.
The impact of this crisis on education, the economy and living conditions of thousands is expected to increase inequality, leading to discontent and social unrest, particularly in countries where the socio-economic infrastructure is too weak to absorb the repercussions. The pandemic is disrupting millions of people’s livelihoods in Africa, with disproportionate impact on poor households and small and informal businesses.
“While actions to support the preparation and the management of a health crisis are already being implemented, and remain the first immediate priority, it is already clear that actions to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be as important”, says general director of Enabel, Jean Van Wetter.
In response to the global crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Belgium is mobilising both at the international level and at the level of the partner countries of the Belgian Development Cooperation. For many decades, the Belgian Development Cooperation has supported the authorities of several African states. That experience is relevant to address the huge challenges which the poorest countries are facing in this Covid-19 crisis. Enabel, as the executing agency of bilateral cooperation, will intervene in different areas with targeted actions.
Health crisis management
To avoid the spread of the virus, governments are putting in place restrictions towards their populations: lockdowns, mobility restrictions and social distancing are widely implemented. Large-scale surveillance and testing and isolation of identified cases are being put in place. But a rapid surge of cases is still possible, and governments must prepare for this scenario as well. It will demand significant numbers of testing facilities, hospital beds, ventilators and other medical equipment, as well as additional health professionals. The pandemic underscores the urgent need to strengthen the global health workforce and to prepare for the future.
It will be crucial that routine services and primary health care remain functional at any price, because the complete collapse of the system will cause an enormous surplus of victims and deaths, Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients alike. Therefore, Enabel will support technical training of health workers on how to diagnose, treat, refer, confine, instruct patients and their relatives. In Burkina Faso, for example, additional financial support is given to the rapid response team of the government, which is in charge of follow-up of the epidemic, tracing contacts of sick people and taking samples of suspected cases.
Enabel is also looking into the supply chains by exploring international opportunities to buy crucial items and to assure international and national transport and distribution systems. In Benin, Enabel provided two ambulances to reinforce the health authorities’ capacities in their response to the crisis. In Burkina Faso, two respirators will arrive shortly with the exact same purpose: providing extra equipment in 2 health facilities in the country.
Communication is crucial to contain this health crisis, which is why Enabel supports many governments in providing fact-based information to the population, health workers, village community workers, mayors and religious leaders, police officers, patients and their families to stop the spread of the virus and ensure all citizens are well-informed about the measures that have been put in place. In Benin, for example, Enabel helped with the set-up of a call centre for all questions related to the epidemic. In Niger, Enabel helped disseminating sensitisation messages through influencers in different communities, and organised information sessions for journalists in order for them to be well-aware of the disease, its symptoms and what the country is doing to contain the spread.
Access to water
Access to water remains an issue in many places, either in remote rural areas or in dense low-income urban districts. Enabel helps through provision of water, soap and hygiene training. In Niger, we distributed disinfectant gel and showed the basic hand washing techniques in order to contain the spread of corona.
Side effects of confinement measures and restrictions on mobility will most likely have an impact on livelihoods and incomes. If disruptions of local and/or international supply chains and markets continue, this will impact global and local food prices and might fuel social unrest. Ensuring food production in rural areas, as well as processing it and making sure it can find its way to the (urban) consumers, will contribute to protecting the most vulnerable populations by ensuring incomes, and access to affordable and healthy food.
The current crisis is challenging the capacity of governments across the world, but African governments need to anticipate what the impact on their economy is likely to be and offer a short-term stimulus package to maintain financial stability and help businesses survive the crisis. Enabel aims to strengthen socio-economic resilience on the short and medium term, and will therefore support local enterprises and the start-up scene in countries to stimulate local economies and spark innovative solutions.
Vulnerable populations will specifically suffer from this crisis; special attention should be given to vulnerable groups such as women, migrants, children and the disabled. In Morocco, for instance, Enabel will provide extra money and food vouchers to migration populations: as they have difficulties accessing basic services. This financial support will help to buy basic goods such as hygiene items and food.
The availability and use of quality data during health crises can make a significant contribution to support prevention measures and improve mitigation strategies. It is therefore important to help our partner countries in making quality information accessible to all and provide open data to ensure researchers and developers can use this data to further develop innovative solutions.