Covid is triggering alarming poverty levels across Africa — study

The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing an increasing number of people in sub-Saharan Africa’s leading economies into poverty, a new survey shows.

According to GeoPoll’s six-nation survey on the financial and social impact of the pandemic, rising unemployment, decline in incomes, drastic cuts in spending on essential and non-essential items, and mounting concern over meeting bills in the months ahead are key concerns.

The study was conducted among 2,400 people in South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Kenya.

“The picture that emerges is of a further sharp deterioration in the financial position of many individual Africans in the first quarter of 2021,” said Scott Lansell, GeoPoll’s Vice President – International Development.

The poll, which was conducted between March 24 and April 12th, found two-thirds of respondents – 66 per cent – reporting that their income had fallen since January 2021, with 42 per cent saying it had declined by a huge margin. This follows from large percentages of reported falls in the three months to July and November last year.

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“The picture is now one of considerable progressive deterioration,” said Mr Lansell.

Across the six nations, the most widespread first quarter income dips were reported in Kenya, which was entering a new lockdown at the time of the survey on a third-wave surge in Covid-19 infections.

The lockdown proved quickly effective in reducing infections and was lifted on May 1, but the financial impact looks set to be far-reaching, with 79 per cent of Kenyan respondents reporting falling incomes in the three months to March 2021.

The survey also found the hardest hit were youth, with 66 per cent of the 18-25 year-olds surveyed in Kenya reporting they had suffered sharp drops in their income during the first quarter of 2021.

As a result of the new income cuts, reported across every nation, concerns have escalated about meeting everyday expenses, with 53 per cent of all respondents saying they were now extremely concerned about paying their expenses in the next three months.

For most, as they also reported declining spending on essential items and on non-essential items, the biggest squeeze on their spending was due to reduced earnings, but, in Nigeria, over 90 per cent of respondents said it was due to rising prices, as they’re grappling with inflation, too.

“When we see the trend in Kenya of deteriorating incomes in the three months leading up to each of our four polls during the pandemic, it becomes clear that Kenyans are experiencing progressive financial pressure, which is getting worse as the pandemic is prolonged,” said John Paul Murunga, GeoPoll Regional Director – East Africa.

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This has played out in many other financial changes too, with three-quarters reporting they are using mobile money less often, and 41 per cent saying they are making mobile deposits and withdrawals a lot less often.

The poll also found further employment shifts as the proportion of respondents in full-time and part-time employment fell again, and the proportion who are now self-employed or unemployed went up. Overall, 35 per cent reported they were now unemployed.

The third wave of the pandemic has also pushed back hopes on when life might return to normal, with 24 per cent of respondents now believing they will only return to pre-Covid routines next year or in 2023.

In South Africa, which has reported highest Covid cases in Africa, a third, at 33 per cent, believe they won’t see life turning back to normality until next year at the earliest.

Yet, across all the countries surveyed, greater numbers were reporting that they felt inadequately informed about vaccinations and there was a sharp drop, compared with the November 2020 survey, in those who were keen to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

Last November, 62 per cent of respondents were keen to get the jab but by April that had fallen to 43 per cent.

“Across all, we see deteriorating confidence in the efficacy of vaccines and rising complaints at insufficient information,” said Mr Lansell. “Yet, if Africa cannot move to herd immunity, the ongoing toll of the pandemic will prove insupportable, with many respondents now losing hope that their incomes will return as life goes back to normal, and income scales now tumbling.”

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