Under COVID-19 lockdowns, 32 million Africans would be severely food deprived, says new research

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 International Growth Centre (IGC) research.

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 4 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 (8% 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% 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 9% 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.

“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,” said Teachout.

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Notes to editors:

The full paper can be found here.

Contact information:

Emilie Yam, Head of Communications, IGC
Email: e.yam@lse.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)7804 906 778

About the IGC

The International Growth Centre (IGC) aims to promote sustainable growth in developing countries by providing demand-led policy advice based on frontier research. The IGC directs a global network of world-leading researchers and in-country teams in Africa and South Asia and works closely with partner governments to generate high-quality research and policy advice on key growth challenges. Based at LSE and in partnership with the University of Oxford, the IGC is majority funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).