By Umberto Labate
ISTANBUL, Jul 7 2020 (IPS)
COVID-19 continues to race across the African continent. People are dying, and even more are being pushed into hunger and poverty, in many cases risking to overturn years of development gains.
The numbers are staggering. While the pandemic is only now taking root in Africa, there are at least 400,000 confirmed cases, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the outbreak is accelerating across the continent.
Add to this the risks of hunger and poverty. Three out of four people on the continent are food insecure. More than 320 million people are without access to safely managed drinking water, and over half the population lack access to any sanitation.
While this pandemic has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives, there are far greater risks on the horizon for the African people.
Left unchecked, climate change, environmental destruction, rising sea levels, droughts, floods and other environmental risks could trigger mass migration, increase conflict and disrupt, if not reverse, a decade of economic growth.
“It is imperative that post-COVID-19 stimulus packages integrate short and long term climate impacts as well as unlock significant appropriate technological and financial solution packages, for robust economic recovery and enhanced resilience for the wellbeing of people and ecosystems,” said Ambassador Seyni Nafo, Coordinator of the Africa Adaptation Initiative (AAI).
While international support is needed and is being programmed and reprogrammed across the UN system – with UNDP leading the global socio-economic recovery – rebuilding efforts will primarily come from African ingenuity, African resilience, African institutions and African leaders.
Africa out front
African minds are stepping up to create solutions. One noteworthy example is the purchase and deployment of Smart Anti-Epidemic Robots to fight against COVID-19 in Rwanda. Other examples include the use of blockchain technology to give online rewards for forCOVID-19 reduction efforts in South Africa and an innovative ‘solar for health initiative.’
Africa is leading the way at the political and strategic levels too. Late last month, 54 African leaders endorsed a new policy recommendation outlined in a brief on “Integrated Reponses to Building Climate and Pandemic Resilience in Africa.”
The recommendations include adaptation actions to secure the food supply for vulnerable populations and strengthen the agricultural value chain, increase access to water and sanitation in parallel with efforts to improve water governance, and the need to invest in resilient infrastructure to create jobs. These recommendations result in a triple dividend for African countries: reduced pandemic risk, increased climate resilience and strengthened economic recovery.
According to the World Bank, Africa needs about US$100 billion a year for the next decade to fill its infrastructure gap. “Low and middle-income countries alone could see a net benefit of $4.2 trillion from investing in infrastructure that prioritizes future-focused resiliency. That’s a $4 return for every $1 spent. By contrast, investing in ‘business-as-usual’ infrastructure not optimized for resilience only returns $1.5 for every $1 spent.”
At last year’s Climate Talks, the European Union announced ramped up support for AAI with a EUR 1 million grant, administered by UNDP. With this catalytical seed money the initiative is now serving as a broker and catalyst to bring together key stakeholders to discuss and enact climate resilient strategies for sustainable development in Africa.
“The impact of climate change on our world is accelerating. Ambitious and coordinated actions are necessary to address this global threat. The EU is placing sustainability criteria at the centre of its recovery policies, both domestically and internationally. The African continent has an enormous potential to adapt and enhance its efforts towards a climate resilient development future, and the EU is a proud supporter of this endeavor,” said Alessandra Sgobbi, Policy Officer at the European Commission – DG Clima.
The big picture
The international community has moved swiftly to support African countries in responding to the COVID-19 crisis with over $50 billion announced thus far. This is a good start, but only a portion of the funds required to future-proof investments and build long-term resilience.
African institutions, such as AAI, are stepping up to fill this gap. Together with support from the UN system, donors, and global leaders, they are making the case and showing the way for a resilient future.
About the author
Umberto Labate is a Portfolio Management Specialist and Technical Advisor working in the ‘Nature, Energy and Climate Team’ of the UNDP Global Policy Network. He supports countries to identify and address developmental risks through integrated interventions, access to climate finance, and coordination with multiple partners, with the ultimate objectives of enhancing climate action and achieving the SDGs.
African leaders highlight the opportunity for a triple dividend: reduced risk, increased resilience and strengthened recovery.