In a report published on Friday, April 17, 2020, the agency said the severity of the death toll in Africa will depend on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.
Only around 18,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded on the African continent, even though the disease has infected over 2 million people around the world and wreaked havoc in Europe and the United States.
Despite the low records in Africa, UNECA said in its report that Africa should brace for devastating human and economic impact.
“Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings (excluding North Africa) and only 34 per cent of the households have access to basic hand washing facilities.
“In all, 71 per cent of Africa’s workforce is informally employed, and most of those cannot work from home,” UNECA said.
The agency noted the continent is home to the highest prevalence of certain underlying medical conditions that can prove fatal upon infection from coronavirus.
“With lower ratios of hospital beds and health professionals to its population than other regions, high dependency on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products, weak legal identity systems for direct benefit transfers, and weak economies that are unable to sustain health and lockdown costs, the continent is vulnerable,” the agency said.
UNECA also noted that even if the spread of coronavirus is suppressed, it’s projected to cause an unavoidable economic damage that’ll further push 27 million Africans into extreme poverty.
The agency estimated that Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, will be severely affected by the price and demand shock to oil, and lose between $14 billion and $19.2 billion in revenue from oil exports as a direct impact of the coronavirus.
The report said, “The price of oil, which accounts for 40 per cent of Africa’s exports, has halved, and major African exports such as textiles and fresh-cut flowers have crashed.
“Tourism – which accounts for up to 38 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of some African countries – has effectively halted, as has the airline industry that supports it.”
UNECA warned that some collapsed businesses may never recover and that the lack of a rapid response might mean the government losing control and facing unrest.
The agency recommended that the continent needs $200 billion to prevent a tragic outcome.
$100 billion, UNECA said, should be used to immediately resource a health and social safety net response, while another $100 billion should be used for critical economic emergency stimulus, including a debt standstill, the financing of a special purpose vehicle for commercial debt obligations, and provision of extra liquidity for the private sector.
The agency recommended that since African economies are interconnected, the continent’s response must be done in unity.
Since it was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the coronavirus has killed at least 147,000 people across the world. Less than 1,000 of those deaths have been recorded in Africa.