Coronavirus could push millions of Africans into poverty: UN chief

The UN said the low coronavirus numbers in Africa could be linked to minimal testing and reporting. (AP)
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Updated 20 May 2020

Coronavirus could push millions of Africans into poverty: UN chief

  • Coronavirus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases
  • The UN said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress and could push millions into extreme poverty.
The UN chief said in a video message launching a policy report on “The Impact of COVID-19 in Africa” that countries on the continent have responded swiftly to the crisis, and as of now reported cases are lower than feared with more than 2,500 deaths.
The virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases, the 28-page UN report said.
The relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases confirmed thus far “have raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic,” the report said. “Caution is warranted, however, as these are early days in the life cycle of a disease that is still not fully understood and where we have seen repeated patterns of first slow, then exponential growth in the number of cases.”
The UN said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization warning that the pandemic “could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses.”
And WHO also warned that “the socioeconomic impacts could `smolder’ for several years,” the report said.
Guterres said “much hangs in the balance.”
He called 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.
To help address the devastating economic and social consequences of the pandemic, Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries” unable to service their debt, “followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.”
In recent years, Guterres said economic growth in Africa has been strong, the digital revolution has taken hold and agreement has been reached on a free trade area.
But he said “already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining” and the opening of the trade zone has been pushed back.
The secretary-general said the pandemic “will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.”
The UN urged that agriculture be declared a critical sector that should not be interrupted by COVID-19 related measures.
Guterres commended what countries and the African Union have done to tackle the pandemic, saying most have deepened regional coordination, deployed health workers, and enforced quarantines, lockdowns and border closures.
“They are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumors and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers,” Guterres said.
He said the United Nations has delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other supplies, reaching almost the entire continent.
While dealing with the pandemic, the UN report said “maintaining peace and security in Africa remains paramount.”
Guterres has appealed for global cease-fires to tackle COVID-19 and he said it is “essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism.”


India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 05 June 2020

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”