Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged African countries to strengthen their social protection systems as many economies continue to grapple with the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many African countries introduced measures like cash transfers and food assistance in response to the rising poverty and hunger occasioned by the pandemic, but most households received no support.

The World Bank forecasts that the Covid-19 crisis will have pushed an additional 29 million Africans into extreme poverty by the end of 2021.

‘The Covid-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of millions of households across Africa, leaving families hungry and desperate for help’, Africa Director at HRW, Mausi Segun, said in a statement.

‘African governments should urgently invest in the social protection systems needed to ensure that Africans can endure the pandemic’s devastating economic impact with dignity’.

The human rights organisation noted that between March 2020 and August 2021, its researchers interviewed more than 270 people in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda about the impact of the pandemic on access to food and livelihoods, and government efforts to respond.

‘Researchers spoke to affected individuals and families, health workers, government officials, and representatives of nongovernmental organisations, international financial institutions, and bilateral donors, among others’, the statement added.

The organisation’s researchers, according to the statement, documented job losses, falling income, and widespread hunger among people living in poverty in Nairobi and Lagos.

‘In Kenya, the research also highlighted an increase in violence against women and girls during Covid-19-related lockdowns and curfews. In Ghana and Uganda, researchers examined an increase in child labour due to the pandemic’, the statement read.

In Cameroon, the researchers said they observed corruption and a lack of transparency in the government’s use of funds intended to address the health and economic impacts of Covid-19.

It was gathered that interviews in Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda were conducted by or in conjunction with partner organisations, including Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (Nigeria), Friends of the Nation (Ghana), and the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (Uganda).

People interviewed in all five countries said that lockdowns, travel restrictions, and other measures imposed to control the spread of the virus, coupled with a pandemic-linked economic downturn, decreased their access to food and other essentials.

‘In Ghana, a 14-year-old girl said that, after losing access to free school meals because of school closures, she worked nine hours a day gutting and scaling fish’, the statement said.

Under international human rights law, governments have an obligation to fulfill the right to an adequate standard of living, including the rights to food, water, and adequate housing, and the right to social security, which are also recognised as entitlements under African human rights law.

‘For many African governments, the Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call that investing in social protection systems is vital not only to ensure that people have access to food and other basic goods but also to their country’s economic resilience’, Segun said.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Photo source: World Bank

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