The virus has not yet broken out, but famine has threatened Africa because of Covid-19

A stampede to fight for relief food in Nairobi, Kenya on April 10. Photo: AP.
A stampede to fight for relief food in Nairobi, Kenya on April 10. Photo: AP.

Blockade orders to stem the spread of the corona virus have left millions of Africans in serious food shortage.

On the street in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, a woman named Eugene Wadema takes hard steps, finding the means to return to her hometown in a rural area 300 km away.

Days before the blockade order went into effect, food prices spiked at a level that most people in a poor country with the world’s second highest unaffordable inflation rate.

“Here, the price of a bag of potatoes is 40 USD. Yesterday it was only 15 USD only,” Wadema said. The woman said her hometown was a fortunate area when she continued to receive food supplies, but Wadema was unsure how long the supply would last.

Behind Wadema, her husband was carrying a child. Two other children, a 5-year-old twins, tried to catch up to their parents, dragging bags with clothes and blankets. However, the whole family did not have a piece of food.

“If we find food, we won’t go anywhere,” Wadema said.

The above story is typical of the problem that Africa has to solve. According to the AP, blockade orders, though slowing the spread of corona virus, have hurt the continent’s fragile food supply.

Difficulties piled up

The blockade in 33 of 54 African countries has separated farmers from markets, threatening the ability to supply goods to rural areas. Many people’s markets, where millions of people often buy food, have been forced to close.

One in every five Africans did not have enough food to survive even before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, equivalent to 250 million, according to FAO World Food and Agriculture Organization. In sub-Saharan Africa, about 25% of the population is malnourished.

“This is more than double the size of any other region. With a blockade, borders are closed and access to food is hampered, the impact of Covid-19 on Africa can be said.” is unlike anything we have ever known, “said Sean Granville-Ross, regional director of Africa for Mercy Corps.

In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the Kibera slum is considered on the brink of crisis. Last week, a stampede happened when thousands of people desperately scrambled for food at a relief point.

The World Food Program (WFP) is responsible for providing food to millions of people in Africa, mainly rural people, due to countless disasters on this continent such as floods, drought, armed conflict, powerless government, or locust epidemic. The Covid-19 pandemic, therefore, weighed harder on the continent.

Sudan, for example, measures to restrict movement to prevent the spread of the virus have left aid workers unable to reach about 9.2 million people, according to UN calculations.

The most severe drought in decades has threatened about 45 million people across South Africa with famine, as millions of farmers are still struggling to overcome the aftermath of the super typhoons that destroyed Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi last year.

Somalia, one of the world’s most volatile countries, is struggling to provide food to people living in areas controlled by extremists. Two months ago, Somalia declared a national emergency after the locust epidemic broke out, destroying tens of thousands of hectares of crops and meadows. About 20 million people then fell into severe food shortage. Now, grasshoppers are back, even more than before.

Hunger comes before the virus

People in Johannesburg are waiting in line to receive food from private donors. Photo: AP.
People in Johannesburg are waiting in line to receive food from private donors. Photo: AP.

Millions of children are already fed on the World Food Program’s school meal program. Weeks after the corona virus spread to Africa, schools were forced to close, leaving 65 million children unable to access food.

For many Africans, the immediate concern is not the virus, but how to survive blockade orders.

“Most Africans working in informal fields, going out every day. I think the most important issue is how to access food,” said Matshidiso Moeti, Africa’s regional director. WHO, said.

The corona virus spreads in Africa relatively slowly, the continent has not witnessed a sudden increase in new cases and deaths as what happens in Europe, the US and Asia. The continent with only 1.3 billion people has recorded just over 15,000 cases and 815 deaths, though this figure is likely to not reflect the true situation.

However, while the direct cause of Covid-19 deaths is relatively low, most African economies are in jeopardy due to the impact of the pandemic.

“For many poor countries, the economic consequences will be much more catastrophic than the disease itself,” WFP said.

Meanwhile, Oxfam charity warns that the fight against poverty in Africa will be delayed “about 30 years” without external assistance.

Ordinary Africans cannot rely on governments for much, because governments are already in great debt, with depleted foreign reserves. The plunge in world oil prices and the fall of natural ores have further depressed African exports.