Number of Africans in extreme poverty could rise to 514 million in 2021, says UNECA

March 5, 2021
File Photo: COVID-19 will push an additional 5 to 29 million below the extreme poverty line

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has warned the COVID-19 pandemic could further exacerbate Africa’s extreme poverty as a total of 514 million Africans are projected to fall below the extreme poverty line in 2021, unless the impact of pandemic is contained.

“COVID-19 will push an additional 5 to 29 million below the extreme poverty line. If the impact of the pandemic is not limited by 2021, an additional 59 million people could suffer the same fate, which would bring the total number of extremely poor Africans to 514 million people,” the UNECA warned in a statement issued late Tuesday.

African growth trajectories and the impact of COVID-19 are currently shedding doubts on countries’ ability to reach this objective, unless the region achieves faster growth than before the pandemic in the upcoming years, the UNECA warned.

According to the UNECA, before the pandemic, income disparities were on the rise across Africa. While extreme poverty had almost vanished in North Africa, more than 50 percent of the population in Central Africa lived below the extreme poverty line. The UNECA data showed that about nine out of ten extremely poor people in the world currently live in Africa.

It, however, stressed that Africa continues to experience disparities in universal access to energy, electricity and even clean fuels and technologies for cooking.

According to the UNECA, the impact of climate change is another major challenge for African economies in addition to the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic. Despite African countries have made progress towards the emission reduction target and have managed to increase the proportion of key biodiversity areas by 4.5 percent between 2010 and 2020, the continent has remained vulnerable to climate change with limited response capability.

Africa has lost an average of 3.9 million hectares of forest per year between 2010 and 2020 due to population growth, poverty and agricultural expansion. The World Bank had previously warned that the COVID-19 situation could push up to 40 million people into extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, erasing at least five years of progress in fighting poverty.

It further warned that the pandemic could set back progress in building human capital, as school closures will affect nearly 253 million students, potentially causing losses in learning.

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