Under COVID-19 lockdowns, 32 million Africans would be severely food deprived.

child washing hands 747x560
Child washing hands.

After an eight-week lockdown, 168 million people would no longer afford the amount of food they were consuming pre-COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, indicates new research by the International Growth Centre (IGC), based at LSE.

The IGC study indicates that in their current forms, and if implemented for eight weeks, lockdowns in sub-Saharan Africa could lead almost 32 million people, including four million children under five years old, to be severely food deprived. If extended to all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, lockdowns would push almost 78 million people (eight per cent of the population) into extreme hunger.

The paper’s authors – Matthieu Teachout, IGC Research Director, and Céline Zipfel, researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science – also find prolonged, strict lockdowns would wipe out the savings of about 30 per cent of the continent’s population, effectively eliminating households’ capacity to withstand future shocks.

The study builds on recent data showing how incomes have been affected under lockdowns in developing countries and makes assumptions about the likely impact on various sectors in Africa. Researchers estimate the impact of lockdowns on household consumption using survey data from Rwanda as a benchmark, and using additional data from multiple sources, make the same projections for all sub-Saharan African countries.

The study estimates the current containment measures in Africa have pushed an additional nine per cent of the population into extreme poverty. Furthermore, the long-term damage to incomes from the lockdowns could keep about 18 million people at risk of severe food deprivation.

While the study’s simulation is speculative and subject to a margin of error, the findings allow policymakers in developing countries to better understand the direct and immediate impact of COVID-19 containment measures on people’s livelihoods. The IGC recently released policy guidance for developing country governments on containment strategies and support for vulnerable households.

In their calculations, the researchers also assume there is no government intervention in the form of social assistance. Currently, some African countries are distributing food and expanding social programmes, but World Bank data show coverage of existing, pre-pandemic programmes is extremely low and social assistance does not effectively target the poorest populations.

Matthieu Teachout said: “The findings from our study suggest that blanket lockdowns in low-income countries – if not accompanied by massive amounts of aid and social assistance programmes – may put even more people at risk of dying than the unmitigated spread of COVID-19 itself".