Long-term development

  • We work with communities to tackle the causes of poverty through a combination of hands-on expertise, financial investment and education. In addition, we give people a voice to speak out against the laws, actions and policies that keep them in poverty.

COVID-19 recovery in West Africa is “austerity on steroids” and sets the region on a destructive path ahead

 

Austerity, spiraling debt and vaccine inequity will bring the inequality crisis to levels never reached before, reveals new index.

West African governments are planning to “slash and burn” their way out of COVID-19 induced economic loss, reveals new analysis from Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) today. The organizations are calling for an urgent change of course as West African governments are preparing their annual budgets and participating in the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, which are crucial discussions to focus the recovery on fighting inequality and poverty.

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) shows that 14 out of 16 West African nations intend to cut their national budgets by a combined $26.8 billion over the next five years in an effort to partly plug the $48.7 billion lost in 2020 alone across the entire region due to the pandemic. Such austerity has been encouraged by the IMF, through its COVID-19 loans. 

This massive raid on public finances could push millions more West Africans into poverty and hunger and potentially trigger the worst inequality crisis in decades.  Women will be impacted more severely due to their very high concentration in low paid informal jobs and unpaid care work.  Meanwhile, the collective net worth of West Africa’s three wealthiest men surged by $6.4 billion in the first 17 months of the pandemic ―enough to lift 18 million people out of extreme poverty.

This plan is austerity on steroids. Rather than investing toward a positive new future for the people of West Africa, the region’s governments are instead reaching back to a 1980s playbook ―despite it being a hugely discredited one. The danger is that these governments will cut their way into worsening poverty and skyrocketing inequality.

This comes at a time when the region has lost the equivalent of seven million jobs, infection rates are increasing, there is no vaccine in sight for the vast majority of people and the Sahel is facing one of its worst hunger crisis. This is not the time for governments to be ripping away the public goods, support and services that millions of people need.

The index ranks 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States and Mauritania (ECOWAS+) on their policies on public services, tax, workers’ rights, smallholder agriculture and pandemic response spending, all areas pivotal to reducing inequality and weathering the COVID-19 storm. 

The index highlights that West African governments are again the least committed to reducing inequality in Africa. Most support measures in response to COVID-19 were temporary and did little to reduce inequality, while triggering a sharp increase in debt ―debt servicing in 2020-2021 will siphon off about 61.7 percent of government revenue in West Africa. The support programs have been replaced with austerity measures as COVID-19 infection rates are increasing in many countries of the region. Less than 4 percent of West Africans are fully vaccinated.

Sierra Leone ranks low (13th) on the index. Its government was trying to implement anti-inequality policies before COVID and sharply increased education and health spending. But large corporations pocketed 92 percent of government pandemic support funding, while only 1.5 percent was spent on social protection. Sierra Leone’s $860 million upcoming spending cuts (2022-26) are equivalent to two and a half times its annual healthcare budget.

Nigeria was the region’s worst performing country in tackling inequality going into the pandemic. Nigeria’s health budget (as a percentage of its overall budget) is the third lowest in the world (3.6 percent) and 40 percent of its population does not have access to healthcare services. Nigeria loses $2.9 billion a year from tax incentives to corporations but in 2021 increased value-added taxes (VAT), which apply to everyday products like food and clothing and fall disproportionately on poor people, from 5 percent to 7.5 percent.

Mali has the highest level of income equality among ECOWAS countries with a tax rate on the richest people that is 9% higher than the world average. But it ranks last on healthcare spending, devoting less than 5 percent of its annual budget on health. Nearly 38 percent of Mali’s population (8 million people) have no access to healthcare and 6.5 percent of households face catastrophic healthcare costs spending each year. Women’s labor rights are often not respected and they lack legal protection from marital rape and sexual harassment. Mali plans to slash its budget by $3.3 billion over the next five years.

Burkina Faso ranks middle (9th) on the Index. It spends nearly 23% of its budget on education, the highest share in the region and 9th in the world. But the wealthiest 20% of the population has 44% of the income, and in rural areas, 47.5% of the population lives in poverty. According to the IMF, such a level of inequality reduces Gross National Product growth by at least 1% per year. The government plans to cut $1.27 billion through 2026.

If the governments of West Africa were to increase fairly their tax revenue by 1 percent in the next five years, they would raise $56.89 billion. This is more than enough to cancel the planned $26.8 billion budget cuts and build 600 fully-equipped hospitals across West Africa.

West Africa is at a crossroads. Will the region come out of COVID-19 with policies which exacerbate inequality, or implement a recovery plan that works for everyone and not only for the privileged few?

The pandemic has taught us it is urgent to invest massively in public education, health and social protection and to use more progressive taxation of income and wealth to pay for this. We also need to increase worker’s rights ― especially for women who disproportionately take on the most precarious jobs.

Oxfam and DFI published in 2019 the first “West African Commitment to Reduce Inequality (CRI) index” showing that West African governments were the least engaged across the continent in reducing inequality.

Download “Adding Fuel to Fire: How IMF Demands for Austerity Will Drive Up Inequality Around the World” for more in-depth analysis on austerity measures encouraged by the IMF through its COVID-19 loans. Between March 1, 2020 and March 15, 2021, all countries in West Africa received IMF emergency support to respond to the pandemic through various types of loans. For more information on austerity measures encouraged in the loans received by West African countries refer to Annex 1 and Annex 2 of the report.

A different attitude towards waste in Jordan

The saying goes "One person's trash is another person's treasure". Well, maybe not a treasure in this case but "an opportunity to provide for my family" as described by Om Ghazi.

Om Ghazi, a 38-year-old Jordanian mother, is one of the people we work with from Oxfam's "Improving livelihoods through green jobs project" implemented in the host community in Mafraq, 70km northeast of the Jordanian capital Amman.

Om Ghazi, along with 200 other Syrian and vulnerable Jordanians are given green job opportunities, where individuals collect recyclable materials from their surroundings. The collected material is then transferred to a nearby facility to be sorted, processed, and recycled to be reused in local and international markets.

Om Ghazi at her home, Al-Khaldeyah-Mafraq

Waste collection was never considered to be a stable job in this area. However, the economic situation substantiated in rising unemployment and poverty rates drove people to "cling on to any opportunity that comes their way," says 23-year-old Muath, another beneficiary of the project.

"People around here are desperate for an opportunity, they want to work but only a few find jobs," added Muath.

Muath at the backyard of his home. Al-Khaldeyah-Mafraq
Recycled materials sorted at the recycling facility. Mafraq/Jordan

 

Mafraq is Jordan's second largest governorate, it neighbors the Syrian borders and has seen a massive influx of Syrian refugees who resided there following a decade long war. This posed immense pressure on municipal services such as solid waste management.

Oxfam's project is designed to promote awareness of sound environmental practices while creating green jobs for vulnerable Jordanians and Syrians and supporting municipalities and host communities to better manage solid waste through an 800 square meter facility recycling plastic, cardboard, e-waste, and metals

Plastic waste sorted at the recycling facility. Mafraq/Jordan

Wafa, 39, a single mother of four, joined the program in July 2021 and started collecting recyclable materials from her surroundings in Khalideh-Mafraq. Little did she know that she would become an environmental champion within her community.

"I was oblivious to the applications of recycling, but I learned and received the knowledge and know-how on basic recycling methods. I learned how to make use of my household recyclables, and I now share this knowledge with my neighbors and friends,” said Wafa’a.

Wafa’a continued saying “my children are proud of what I do, and I am proud to be part of this environmental movement.”

Most participants battle a culture that undermines their ambitions, goals, careers, and motives dubbed in Jordan as the "culture of shame."

My eldest son -18 years old- and I usually stroll and collect cardboard from the nearby markets. At first, he used to tell me about the 'odd looks and comments from his peers' and so did I, but I grew past that because I believe that there is no shame in work," said Om Faisal, a mother of five.

6% of all green jobs provided through the project were allocated for people with disabilities who remain among the most vulnerable segments.

22-year-old Yusra, has speech and hearing impairment, but she maintains an active role in her community. She sat down with Oxfam staff to describe her experience.She signed her words as her father translated.

"I applied and after a couple of weeks I was told that I was accepted, it made me feel happy to have a role, to help and take part," signed Yusra as her father translated. The repercussions of the pandemic are most felt by the less fortunate, as they continue to battle new challenges in light of shrinking opportunities. To most, waste collection was never an option, but for some, it is an opportunity today and it "happens to make things better and cleaner around us," added Om Ghazi.

The project partnered with different grassroots and community-based organizations to raise awareness and engagement regarding recycling and upcycling."Yes, we live in a poor area, but it is rich with compassion, everyone helps around here, some would keep the recyclable material aside for me to collect later, I think it is because they saw the impact on the community," ended Om Ghazi.

Oxfam, funded by the Australian Aid (DFAT) continues to support Syrians and Jordanians in host communities to better their surrounding while providing green job opportunities and skills training helping them achieve self-sustainability. 

World Environment Day 2021: See how one farming community is defending itself against climate change

Sarah in her field in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. She has been farming for 25 years and in that time, changing weather patterns have affected her crop yields. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

One of the key messages of this year’s World Environment Day is that we cannot turn back time. We can, however, be the generation that makes peace with nature and make the kinds of changes that can not only ensure our survival, but that of our planet. As we prepare to mark World Environment Day this Saturday 5 May, we meet a farmer in Zimbabwe who reveals how an Oxfam initiative helped build resilience against the effects of changing rainfall patterns…

 

Sarah (55) is a farmer in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. For nearly 25 years, her livelihood has been at the mercy of changing weather patterns, as shifting rainfall patterns have resulted in major fluctuations in her harvests.

Where we expect it to rain [in October or November], it doesn’t rain so what we have planted doesn’t grow well because the rain hasn’t come as expected.

In 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline, one of the strongest storms to hit south-eastern Africa, damaged the main canals on the north bank of the Nyanyadzi River, which Sarah and her family rely on to irrigate their land.

“We woke up to a field full of sand with all the crops gone,” she says. After the storm, the canals were covered with silt. To gain access to water, farmers had to shovel the canals out.

Since then, people in Nyanyadzi have been vulnerable to weather extremes, from frequent heavy rain to prolonged drought. At times, Sarah says, she has gone a month and a half without water.

Sarah is a widow and the sole provider of income and care for her children. What her family eats comes from her fields, so if her harvest is damaged, they might not be able to eat.

Sarah checks the water level at the Nyanyadzi River. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

It’s not just the crops that are affected, I wake up every day and say that I am going to work so that I can send my children to school... While I am working, I will be hoping that the crops I plant grow well, so that my children can survive, go to school, and have something to eat.

Adapting agriculture practices that protect farmers from the harmful effects of climate change

In 2014, Oxfam and partner organisations implemented Scaling up Adaptation in Zimbabwe, a project to support rural farming communities and build climate resilience. Sarah and members of her community received lessons in water management and irrigation infrastructure, including training in gabion basket-making (gabions are structures that control erosion) and construction of gully plugs (small dams that help conserve soil moisture) and silt traps. This new set-up stopped silt from moving into canals.

Now, with the canals functioning as they should, Sarah can do her job. She points out that there were no breakdowns or water shortages this year.

Sarah sells her tomatoes at the market. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

When Cyclone Idai devastated southern Africa in 2019, Sarah was mostly spared. She lost some land when the Odzi River flooded, but she considers herself lucky compared to the damages to property and loss of life others had to endure. However, the pipe that collects water was swept away. This issue has yet to be fixed. Without support, Sarah says it will have an effect on the community’s ability to secure water.

I am good farmer. If I get enough water, and I have my inputs, I really have a good farming season.

The climate crisis is affecting people in every country on every continent, but it is those with the fewest resources – like farmers in Sarah’s community – who are enduring its harshest affects. By the 2030s, large parts of Southern, Eastern, and the Horn of Africa, and South and East Asia will experience greater exposure to droughts, floods, and tropical storms.

Along with our partners, we are working with communities vulnerable to climate change, providing them with the vital adaptation techniques they need to continue to feed their families and earn an income. 

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