Nairobi-The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for African governments to strengthen social protection systems and fulfill people’s rights to social security and an adequate standard of living, it said of Human Rights Watch today. Many African governments have introduced measures such as cash transfers and food assistance in response to the rising poverty and hunger that the pandemic has caused, but most households have received no support. The World Bank estimates that the Covid-19 crisis will push 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,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “African governments must immediately invest in the social protection systems necessary to ensure that Africans can withstand the devastating economic impact with dignity.”
Between March 2020 and August 2021, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 270 people in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda about the impact of the pandemic on food and livelihood access, and government efforts to respond. The researchers spoke with affected individuals and families, health workers, government officials, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations, international financial institutions, and bilateral providers, among others.
In Kenya and Nigeria, Human Rights Watch documented unemployment, falling incomes, and widespread hunger among people living in poverty in Nairobi and Lagos. In Kenya, the research also highlighted the increase in violence against women and girls during the lockdowns and curfews associated with Covid-19. In Ghana and Uganda, researchers examined the increase in child labor due to the pandemic. In Cameroon, research highlighted corruption and lack of transparency in the government’s use of funds intended to address the health and economic impacts of Covid-19.
The interviews in Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda were conducted by or in conjunction with a number of organizations, including the Justice & 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-related outbreak, have reduced their access. in food and other essentials. In Ghana, a 14-year-old girl said that, after losing access to free school meals due to school closures, she worked nine hours a day gutting and scaling the fishes. “If I don’t do it, life will be tough for all of us,” he said.
Most of the people interviewed reported that they had not received any government support. “The state didn’t help us,” said a hotel secretary from Douala, Cameroon, who insisted on paying for her children’s food and education after her salary was reduced by two-thirds.
The lack of unemployment support, child benefits, and other forms of financial assistance or unfavorable for people who have lost their jobs or income reflects the weaknesses of Africa’s social protection systems. Data from the International Labor Organization (ILO) states that less than 20 percent of Africans will have access to any social protection either by 2020, or when the data will last be available.
Many African governments seek to close gaps in the scope of social protection during a pandemic by introducing measures such as cash transfers and food assistance. But Human Rights Watch in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda found that programs introduced or expanded reached only a fraction of households in need of support.
“We keep hearing rumors about the government sharing money and food, but I don’t see anything in my area,” said a mother of seven from Lagos State, Nigeria, who lost her job as a cleaner in March. 2020 due to Covid- 19 closure associated.
Research in Kenya and Nigeria also revealed that corruption sometimes prevents limited available social assistance from reaching those most in need of it. In Kenya, Human Rights Watch found evidence that local officials and politicians who manage to enroll people in a Covid-19 cash transfer program ignored eligibility criteria and directed benefits to their relatives or friends instead. Other eligible households did not receive assistance. “We showed up at the leader’s office because other people were receiving support while we weren’t,” said a teacher from Nairobi, who lost her job during the lockdown and struggled to feed her four elderly children. son.
The risk of corruption is increased by inadequate oversight of funds lent for Covid-19 response by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Human Rights Watch’s research into anticorruption requirements on emergency loans issued in Cameroon and Nigeria, as well as Ecuador and Egypt, found that government information disclosed about how they spent funds The IMF is varied and insufficient for meaningful oversight.
Under international human rights law, governments have an obligation to exercise the right to an adequate standard of living, including the rights to food, water, and adequate shelter, and the right to social security, also recognized as rights under African human rights law The right to social security requires countries to provide people with the health care, old age, children, unemployment, and other benefits necessary to get an adequate standard of living, including in times of economic crisis.
“For many African governments, the Covid-19 pandemic is an awakening that investment in social protection systems is essential not only to ensure people have access to food and other basic commodities but also to resilience. of their country’s economy, ”Segun said. “Now the challenge is to improve and expand the interim measures introduced to produce robust and transparent programs that will permanently protect people’s right to an adequate standard of living.”