Africa’s Poor Starving from Coronavirus Closures

Photo courtesy of Christian Aid Mission.

COVID-19 has not been as lethal for Africa as international aid organizations predicted, but the resulting economic paralysis has left many poor people starving.

“The coronavirus pandemic has made things just terrible over here,” the director of a native ministry based in Kenya said. “It breaks my heart to see people thin, hungry, and starving, and children crying on cold nights.”

The vulnerable poor in the “informal sector” – where day-laborers, petty traders, and others work, and access to health care and coronavirus testing is negligible – have been hit hard by shutdowns and can be overlooked in official unemployment counts. It is among these people that local missionaries most often live and work.

Hope for the resumption of income appeared to be on the horizon as Kenya and other African countries began to loosen travel and business restrictions this month, but the poor in rural areas have little time. The ministry leader said many people have been starving.

“They told us that they were just about to be thrown out by the hired goons, and their children could have lost their lives.”

“One lady, when we delivered food to her family, they just saw the hands of God – she confessed that they were starving, did not have anything at all to eat, and did not know at all what could have happened to them,” he wrote to Christian Aid Mission. “We have been able to spread your generosity to the people in the bush where we have been working; how sad the faces were while they were lining up to receive food, but you can see those big smiles as they received food from us.”

Non-Lethal Infections

Fearful that COVID-19 cases would overrun their limited health care systems, African countries quickly imposed widespread shutdowns early in the pandemic.

At least 42 African countries had full or partial stay-at-home orders in place by mid-April, when there were only 22,400 cases and 900 deaths recorded in the region, according to U.N. figures cited in The New Humanitarian (TNH) magazine. Slowing down the spread of the virus came with a hard economic hit; one study in June found that two-thirds of people in low-income areas of Nairobi had income reductions that forced them to borrow or resort to savings to survive, with more than 20 percent saying they faced increased hunger, TNH reported.

Kenya, which had braced for hospital overflows and prepared mass graves in cemeteries, reportedly hit a peak of 600 COVID-19 cases per day in August, but by mid-September, that figure had decreased to fewer than 100 cases per day. By the middle of this month, the total number of fatalities was just over 800.

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SOURCE: Mission Network News, Kevin Zeller


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