Press Releases

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.

25 humanitarian organisations and NGOs urge EU leaders to “provide a lifeline” to Afghan refugees at the Forum on providing protection for Afghans at risk

25 humanitarian organisations and NGOs are jointly urging EU leaders to expand safe and legal pathways from Afghanistan and the region. The call reiterates recommendations outlined in a joint statement released on 16 September that called on the EU and its Member States to live up to their commitments to refugee protection and humanitarian leadership, and share responsibilities with countries neighbouring Afghanistan. The upcoming Forum on providing protection for Afghans at risk, planned for Thursday 7 October, provides a key chance for them to do so.

The organisations are pressing leaders to seize this opportunity to:

  1. Make ambitious pledges to resettle at least 36,000 refugees identified by UNHCR as in need of resettlement across different regions in 2022. This must be in addition to launching a dedicated scheme to resettle Afghan refugees from neighbouring countries, including those in a protracted situation.

    Resettlement can provide a durable solution for refugees in need, while strengthening the capacity of states in the region to continue offering protection.
  2.  

  3. In addition to resettlement, use all available legal pathways to immediately bring people in need of protection to safety from Afghanistan and the region, with predictable and secure protection upon arrival. This includes, for instance, an expanded and flexible use of family reunification, humanitarian visas, community sponsorships, as well as higher education scholarship and work visas.

    Such pathways will provide a lifeline to people with urgent protection needs, and prevent them from making dangerous border crossings in search of safety. It remains crucial, however, that evacuations and humanitarian admissions remain additional to resettlement and are not counted towards annual resettlement quotas.
  4.  

  5. Uphold access to a fair and full asylum process for Afghan and other nationals in Europe, while supporting their inclusion, integration and participation in society. These pathways to safety cannot replace the right for Afghan and other asylum seekers to seek protection in Europe, no matter how they reach the territory. Among others, all rejected asylum cases of Afghan nationals must be urgently reviewed, deportations to the region must be formally suspended in line with the principle of non-refoulement, and any pushbacks or denial of access to asylum or reception for asylum seekers in Europe must be promptly investigated and sanctioned by EU institutions.

In recent weeks, the European Commission, European Parliament, regions and cities, and civil society have led the way in showing solidarity with Afghan refugees and calling for significant and urgent pathways to safety. European leaders must now follow suit.


END

Notes to editors

Read the joint statement released on 16 September that called on the EU and its Member States to live up to their commitments to refugee protection and humanitarian leadership, and share responsibilities with countries neighbouring Afghanistan.

Third COVID wave engulfs Yemen with 99 per cent of people unvaccinated

Photo of Salam Qassem*. Photo: KaffMedia/Oxfam

Yemenis are battling a third wave of COVID, which threatens 99 per cent of the population who are unvaccinated, Oxfam said today.

Recorded cases of COVID have tripled and the death rate has risen by more than fivefold (420 per cent) in the last month. Excluded from these figures are countless undiagnosed deaths of people in their homes due to the scarcity of tests and hospital beds. Nor does the official death toll of 1649 include the vast majority of Yemeni people who live in the north of the country where COVID-related data is not available.

Despite promises that COVAX, the global initiative to deliver vaccines, would achieve at least 23 per cent vaccination coverage in all member countries by the end of this year, less than one per cent of Yemen’s 30.5 million people have so far received one dose and only 0.05 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated.

Half-way through the year the COVAX scheme was already short by 88 per cent of the promised doses for Yemen, having delivered just 511,000 of 4.2 million. Fears that Yemen’s only source of vaccines to date will fail the country again increased last week when the initiative announced it was a half a billion doses short of its global supply target.

Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s in Yemen’s country director, said: “Yemen has the one of the highest COVID fatality rates in the world – it simply can’t cope with this virus. The conflict has decimated the already fragile healthcare system. Many people are very weak because they can’t afford to feed themselves properly or to buy basic medicines. Others are unable to afford the cost of transportation to a medical centre because of the ongoing fuel crisis.

“Vaccination is a simple solution that would save lives, but the international community is failing the people of Yemen who need doses now. We need the vaccines that have been promised but it is also shameful that having bought up all the vaccines for themselves rich countries like the UK and Germany are blocking the solutions that would see the rights and recipes of these lifesaving vaccines shared so that more can be produced for countries like Yemen. Protecting lives should be more important than protecting the outsized profits of pharmaceutical corporations who have already made billions from this crisis.”

Over four million Yemenis have been displaced during the conflict with around two million living in Marib, currently the site of fierce fighting. Conditions in the camps are dire, many people have no access to clean water, sanitation facilities or healthcare. Salma Qassem*, a midwife who has been living one of Marib’s camps for the last two years, said:

“I was first displaced six years ago. Some people here do not believe COVID exists. Though we have had many cases here in the camps, people haven’t yet realised that the pandemic is spreading. Shelter is the biggest obstacle for Internally Displaced People like us. Some people want to follow the precautions, but they can’t afford it for economic reasons. It is very difficult in terms of isolation for us to face COVID here in the camp especially if anyone is affected, how and where shall we isolate them? “

According to the UN two out of three Yemenis lack access to healthcare services. Seven years on from the start of the conflict, only an estimated half of healthcare facilities are still operating. An estimated 20 million Yemenis need healthcare assistance including 5.9 million children. Sources report that Yemen’s doctors in public hospitals have been working unpaid with some sleeping in hospitals and clinics as they cannot afford accommodation.

This year the UN requested donor countries to provide $3.9 billion for essential humanitarian aid – so far less than half has been donated with healthcare only receiving 11 per cent of the funds it needs.

Ends

*Name changed to protect identity

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Generation thrift -Oxfam encourage young shoppers to be Second Hand September champions

  • Saying yes to second hand? You’re not the only one –join Oxfam for Second Hand September
  • Oxfam calls on people to say yes to pre-loved clothes for month of September

30 August 2021

Oxfam Ireland is gearing up for their third annual Second Hand September campaign across the island of Ireland. By asking people to say yes to second hand clothes for 30 days, the aid agency wants to raise awareness about the harm and impact throwaway fashion has on both our planet and its people, as well as the role their shops and trading activities play in offering a solution.

Oxfam started #SecondHandSeptember in 2019, amid growing demand from shoppers wanting more sustainable and ethical clothing options. A demand that continues to grow, with ThredUp’s ninth annual report revealing that 33 million people in the US alone bought second hand clothes for the very first time in 2020.

Trevor Anderson, Director of Trading with Oxfam Ireland said:“People are starting to see just how much pressure throwaway fashion is putting on our planet and people, and how unsustainable it is. Our retail teams have noted an increase in younger people shopping Oxfam and we believe this reflects a growing movement of more conscientious and ethically driven consumers in Ireland–and thrifting, or shopping second hand, offers people an alternative, more sustainable option.

“We have seen through the Fridays For Future climate strikes, both here at home and globally, that it’s young people driving home the urgent need for climate action. That is why we are calling on them to be Second Hand September champions -to join us in our campaign and help spread the word about the impact fast fashion is having on our environment, as well as its impact on the women and men who make our clothes –a majority of whom don’t earn a living wage for their work.

“Amid a world in parts burning, in parts flooding and in parts starving, people using their own political power and behaviours to push big corporations and governments in the right direction is about as powerful a tool as we could wish for in bringing about positive change. By shifting our habits and consumer choices to more sustainable ones, we can all play a role and be changemakers for our collective future.”

Oxfam Ireland has 47 shops across the island of Ireland that accept and sell pre-loved clothes, shoes, accessories, handbags and more, diverting them from landfill, with even more items up for grabs on Fashion Relief TV, their interactive (always on!) shopping channel with Broadcaster Lorraine Keane. Their teams of 600 strong staff and volunteers are ready and waiting to support people on their journey to more sustainable clothing choices.

Anderson concluded: “Climate change is happening now and is already one of the most harmful drivers of increasing hunger and starvation, migration, poverty and inequality all over the world. We need to start recognising the links between our choices and policies in relatively wealthy countries like Ireland, and their impact in many of the places Oxfam works –from garment workers in Dhaka, to Pacific Island communities bearing the brunt of our climate emergency.

“By joining Oxfam’s Second Hand September movement, collectively we can send a message to our political leaders and the fashion industry, asking them to change their policies and practices to better protect the people who make our clothes and the planet we all share, and together we can inspire others to join us in saying yes to second hand.”

To learn more about Oxfam’s Second Hand September campaign, visit: www.oxfamireland.org/shs

END

To arrange an interview, or for any other media queries relating to Second Hand September, please contact:

irl-media@oxfam.org or call +353 1 672 7662

Images free for use (credit: Oxfam Ireland):

https://oxfam.box.com/s/bk64mcsn590cqotxdxu1jakpptpja4t8

Notes to the editor:

  • A survey commissioned by Oxfam and conducted by Empathy Research in 2019 revealed that:
    • Six in 10 Irish people (63%) see their local charity shop as playing a key role in sustainable fashion
    • 76% donate unwanted items to charity shops because it reduces the amount of clothes being thrown away
    • 62% buy pre-loved clothes and accessories because it gives items a second chance to be worn and enjoyed.
  • ThredUp 2021 Resale Report can be downloaded here.
  • See the Irish charity Shop Association for further stats on Charity Shops and their impact in Ireland
  • Oxfam works across many areas of fashion: collaborating with big brands to recycle and reuse stock; joining forces with fashion houses to improve conditions in their supply chains; fighting to improve workers’ rights; and campaigning for climate action.
  • Across its programmes, Oxfam is tackling the impact of the climate crisis. They work with communities to prepare for unpredictable weather and disasters as a result of climate change and are there to help when the worst does happen, from drought to floods and earthquakes.
  • Oxfam has 47 shops across the island of Ireland. To find your nearest Oxfam shop, visit www.oxfamireland.org/shops
  • Broadcaster Lorraine Keane founded Fashion Relief in 2018 with Oxfam Ireland. Fashion Relief is a fundraiser extraordinaire that offers people the unique opportunity to bag a bargain from the wardrobe of their style icon or beloved brand, boutique or designer, more recently pivoting to an online interactive shopping channel where people can view and shop from the comfort of their home. There are some amazing items available to buy on –www.fashionrelief.ie. In addition, Fashion Relief has a pop-up shop at the Frascati Shopping Centre in Blackrock where people can also view a selection of wedding dresses from Oxfam's Bridal Rooms.
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Oxfam reaction to IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (WGI AR6)

9 August 2021

Responding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), Oxfam Ireland said:

“Amid a world in parts burning, in parts drowning and in parts starving, the IPCC today tables the most compelling wake-up call yet for global industry to switch from oil, gas and coal to renewables. Governments must use law to compel this urgent change. Citizens must use their own political power and behaviours to push big polluting corporations and governments in the right direction. There is no Plan B.

“The world’s highest-level of political and scientific consensus, the IPCC, describes humanity’s slimmest chance to keep global warming to 1.5°C and avert planetary ruin. It sets the agenda for a make-or-break climate summit in Glasgow later this year. This report is yet more unimpeachable proof that climate change is happening now, and that global warming is already one of the most harmful drivers of worsening hunger and starvation, migration, poverty and inequality all over the world. 

“In recent years, with 1°C of global heating, there have been deadly cyclones in Asia and Central America, floods in Europe and the UK, huge locust swarms across Africa, and unprecedented heatwaves and wildfires across the US, Turkey, Greece and Australia ―all turbo-charged by climate change. Over the past 10 years, more people have been forced from their homes by extreme weather-related disasters than for any other single reason ―20 million a year, or one person every two seconds. The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in 30 years. Since 2000, the UN estimates that 1.23 million people have died and 4.2 billion have been affected by droughts, floods and wildfires. 

“The richest one percent of people in the world, approximately 63 million people, are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. The people with money and power will be able to buy some protection against the effects of global warming for longer than people without those privileges and resources ―but not forever. No one is safe. This report is clear that we are at the stage now when self-preservation is either a collective process or a failed one. 

“Global warming is a base factor behind all of today’s huge regressions in human development. The main perpetrators of global warming ―that is, rich countries that have reaped massive wealth by burning fossil fuels― must be the ones to cut their emissions first, fastest and furthest. They must also pay their climate debt to developing countries by scaling up finance to help them adapt to the effects of climate change and transition to clean energy. Other major polluters don’t get a free pass and must also drastically cut emissions. The world has as much to gain in terms of human safety, development, opportunity and jobs by running a global economy on renewables, as it has to lose in continuing business-as-usual.

“Very few nations ―and none of the world’s wealthy nations― have submitted climate plans consistent with keeping warming below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. If global emissions continue to increase, the 1.5°C threshold could be breached as early as the next decade. The IPCC report must spur governments to act together and build a fairer and greener global economy to ensure the world stays within 1.5°C of warming. They must cement this in Glasgow. Wealthy country governments must meet their $100 billion-a-year promise to help the poorest countries grapple with the climate crisis ―according to Oxfam, not only have they failed to deliver on their promise, but over-inflated reports of their contributions by as much as three times.”

ENDS

Contact 

Caroline Reid, Communications Manager, 087 912 3165

Notes to editors

Extreme weather-related disasters were the number one driver of internal displacement over the last decade, forcing more than 20 million people a year ―one person every two seconds― to leave their homes. For more information, download Oxfam’s briefing  Forced from Home.

According to the UN, a sharp rise in the number of droughts, floods and wildfires has claimed 1.23 million lives and affected 4.2 billion people since 2000.

The richest one percent were responsible for 15 percent of emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015 ―more than all the citizens of the EU and more than twice that of the poorest half of humanity (7 percent). The richest 10 percent accounted for over half (52 percent) of emissions during this time. For more information, download Oxfam’s report Confronting Carbon Inequality.

Oxfam’s Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020 offers an assessment of progress towards the $100 billion goal. It considers how climate finance is being counted and spent, where it is going, how close we are to the $100 billion goal, and what lessons need to be learned for climate finance post-2020.

Oxfam recently reported that there has been a six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions since pandemic began.

Oxfam supports a range of climate projects across the world and works with local communities most impacted by the climate crisis. For example, we are helping rural farming communities in Uganda and Zimbabwe build resilience against the effects of changing rainfall patterns, supporting Indigenous people and communities to defend their forest and land rights in the Amazon, restoring degraded lands through agroforestry in the Sahel and Bolivia, and helping rural farming communities in Timor-Leste earn a decent income


 

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