UN Chief: Virus Could Push Millions of Africans Into Poverty

A woman wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, has her temperature checked by a security personnel before entering a grocery shop at Tembisa township in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
A woman wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, has her temperature checked by a security personnel before entering a grocery shop at Tembisa township in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

May 20, 2020

United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, warns about the danger of the COVID-19 in Africa, both from the disease itself and causing increased levels of poverty.

“It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.  Already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining…. millions could be pushed into extreme poverty

“The U.N. said the low numbers could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization warning that the pandemic “could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses.”

“To help address the devastating economic and social consequences of the pandemic, Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries” unable to service their debt, “followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.”

“These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption could escalate quickly.  Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative – now and for recovering better. Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world.

“I have been calling for a global response package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product.  For Africa, that means more than $200 billion as additional support from the international community.

“I also continue to advocate a comprehensive debt framework — starting with an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt, followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.” 

 

Secretary-General António Guterres records a video message on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General António Guterres records a video message on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

ReadUN: Impact of COVID-19 in Africa

Read my earlier articles on COVID-19 in Africa:

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

 

Gambari COS for Buhari: Right Man at Right Time for Nigeria

President Muhammadu Buhari-left and his new Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari-right. (Politics Nigeria)

Gambari COS for Buhari: Right Man at Right Time for Nigeria

Lawrence Freeman

May 15, 2020

President Muhammadu Buhari has unexpectedly chosen an exceptional new Chief of Staff (COS), Professor Ibrahim Gambari, (his friends call him “Prof”), to replace the recently deceased Malam Abba Kyari. Over these many years, through meetings formal and informal at the United Nations, Washington DC, Abuja, and Darfur, I have come to respect Prof. Gambari as an honorable and thoughtful Nigerian leader. During our many discussions, his depth and breadth of strategic thinking was evident and contributed to my knowledge of Nigeria, Africa, and the United States.

President Buhari and Prof Gambari know each other well. Prof Gambari served as the Minister for External (Foreign) Affairs between 1984 and 1985 under General Buhari’s military regime before it was overthrown in a coup. It should be remembered that during that time period, when the government of Gen. Buhari resisted the “Washington Consensus” and the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), the Naira was worth $1.34 dollars. Following the regime change of the Buhari-Gambari partnership, the Naira was immediately devalued to 25 to $1. As it is said, the rest is history.

Not a career politician or member of the foreign service, Prof Gambari as ambassador headed the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations from 1990-1999 and had the distinction of serving under five heads of state during his tenure. Recognizing his experience and diplomatic skills, Prof Gambari upon leaving the Nigerian Mission was appointed Special Adviser on Africa to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan from 1999 to 2005. He was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2007 under Secretary-General’s Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon. Prof Gambari was later appointed head of the Joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) from 2010-2012. As head of the 26,000 man UNAMID force, Prof Gambari navigated a difficult peace keeping operation between the government of Sudan and those international forces who were intent on a Khartoum regime change.

Nigeria in Difficult Times

Nigeria is experiencing multiple tribulations. Its economy is suffering with 40% of its 200 million population living in extreme poverty and the majority of Nigeria’s tens of millions youth are unemployed. Infrastructure is inadequate, especially the lack of daily accessibility to electrical power for consumers and commercial enterprises. Furthermore, the murderous Boko Haram is still operating in the northeastern section of the country. Worsening the condition in Nigeria is the COVID-19 pandemic, which could potentially explode given the insufficient healthcare needed to contain and combat the effects of the coronavirus. The collapse of the price of oil now fluctuating below $30 per barrel has caused significant shortfalls in Nigeria’s revenue and its ability to accumulate foreign exchange. Nigeria’s national budget has been thrown into turmoil because it was predicated on a minimum price of $50 per barrel.

Essential priorities for Nigeria, which I have discussed with government leaders:

  • A national economic growth  plan that benefits all geographical sections of the nation
  • Massive building of physical infrastructure including an urgent mobilization to upgrade and expand healthcare
  • Reverse the shrinking Lake Chad and transform the Lake Chad Basin by implementing Transaqua, an inter-basin water project supported by President Buhari.

Stark weaknesses of globalization have vividly surfaced due to the spread of COVID-19, which has caused devastation, and will likely continue throughout 2020. As a result, the world is crying out for a New International Economic Order to replace the currently defective international financial system. A new paradigm for development that values human life above debt service, prioritizes economic growth, and the elimination of poverty. Nigeria and its people, whose potential has been recognized since the liberation of the continent from colonialism, should play a leading role in this economic transformation of Africa.

To begin the process of accomplishing these goals, President Buhari, in the remaining years of his second term, will need the support of a trusted group of counsellors.  It is my hope that my friend, Prof Gambari, a first-class strategic thinker, and a patriot who cares deeply for Nigeria, will galvanize this effort.

Below I provide excerpts from an article I wrote about Prof Gambari in March 2002, because of their relevancy today.

Professor Gambari discussed the effects of “debt over-hang” on Africa’s development. “The heavy debt burden of many countries is robbing them of their sovereignty, and impeding their pursuit of economic and social policies. The sad part is that debt overhang is hitting generations that had little or nothing [to do] with its contraction. As the UNDP poverty report observes, the ‘truth of the matter is that demands debt servicing are no longer a matter of money, but a source of the excruciating impoverishment of people’s lives.’ ”
While not attacking globalization directly, Gambari diplomatically discussed the consequences for African economies–the unequal benefits from the globalization process.” Globalization, “driven by market and capital expansion, often pays little attention to governance of these markets and their repercussions on people,” and does not guarantee “equity and human development.” The results of globalization are that “Africa’s share of world trade has declined from 40% (1980s) to less than 2% at present.”

Read my outline for the development of Nigeria: Guardian of Nigeria Publishes “Proposal for Nigeria’s Future” by Lawrence Freeman

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Ethiopian & Nigerian Leaders Want Debt Cancellation; UNGA President: Infrastructure for Food and Health

Informal economy in Africa (courtesy Grandmother Africa)

May 7, 2020

Human life in Africa is threatened more by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other continent due to the appalling living conditions for the majority of the population.  During lock-down conditions, millions of Africans are faced with the choice of trying to just subsist day by day working in the informal economy to make enough money to feed one’s family or stay home and go hungry.  However, the informal economy itself is part of the problem, since it no health insurance, no unemployment insurance, and income is precarious at best. The very existence of the informal economy is a malignancy that should have been eliminated decades ago, and replaced with an industrialized economy.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), estimates the total world labor force is 3.3 billion people, and about 2 billion of them, or 61% of the total, are working in the informal economy. The vast majority of such informal workers (93%) are to be found in the Third World. In the first month after the pandemic hit their countries, laborers in the informal economy suffered an average 60% drop in their income. Now, 1.6 billion of those 2 billion informal workers—almost 80% of all informal workers—have lost their jobs or are about to. Tragically, Africa has 86% of its labor force working in the informal economy-the highest of all continents.

RFI reports that Nigeria, with over 200 million people, has 40% of its population living in life threatening poverty. According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), from September 2018, to October 2019, 82.9 million Nigerians earned less than 400 Naira-($1) per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), which compromises the majority of the continent with almost 1 billion people, 41% live in extreme poverty-$1.90 per day or less. The NBS reports that poverty in Nigeria’s rural areas is more than 50 percent. The economic cruelties of life in Nigeria typify conditions throughout SSA.

Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Image

Life is More Precious Than Debt

Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, African nations required a debt moratorium to save the lives of their people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic intersecting the existent conditions of poverty, food insecurity and lack of healthcare infrastructure, Africa leaders are demanding debt cancellation, to prioritize addressing the economic and health needs of their nations. Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria are asking for debt relief.

Following Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy’s op-ed in the April 30 edition of the New York Times, PM Abiy wrote  on May 1, that there is an “urgent need for the Global Health Pledging Conference.” In his essay, “ PM Abiy: A Pledge to Combat COVID-19 in Africa, he  outlines the urgency for debt cancellation.

Up to now, there has been a huge disconnect between the rhetoric of rich-country leaders – that this is an existential, once-in-a-century global crisis – and the support for the world’s poor and developing countries [is more] than they seem willing to contemplate. Indeed, until last week, African countries were spending more on debt payments than on health care.”

“In 34 of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 45 countries, annual per capita health spending is below $200 – and barely reaches $50 in many of these countries. Such low levels of spending make it impossible to fund acute-care hospital beds, ventilators, and the drugs needed to confront diseases like COVID-19. Paying for doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians, and other health professionals, together with their equipment, can seem almost like a luxury.”

Nigerian President Mahammadou Burhari, echoed PM Abiy’s demand for debt cancellation, in a May 4 meeting with heads of state from the Non-Aligned Movement. President Buhari “urged official lenders to help cushion the pandemic fallout with outright debt cancellation,” according Alonso Soto of Bloomberg. The article reports that, “nearly half of Nigeria’s outstanding external debt is with multilateral lenders, led by the World Bank Group with $10.1 billion. Beijing-based Export-Import Bank of China is the second-biggest creditor with loans totaling $3.2 billion, while Eurobonds account for $10.86 billion or 39% of external debt.”

The author with Amb Tijjani Muhammad-Bande at the Nigerian Mission to the UN-August 2019

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly, discussed how the spread of the coronavirus is a threat to those already suffering from poverty and food insecurity in a May 1, op-ed by published by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In his statement, Preventing a Pandemic Induced Food Emergency, Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, head of the the Nigerian Mission to the UN, wrote: “two billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.  Indeed, hunger has been on the rise globally for the past four years

“The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, putting immense strain on tenuous systems; and plunging those in the most precarious contexts deeper into poverty and hunger.

“In many places, travel restrictions aimed at containing COVID-19 has reduced access to markets; and the purchasing power of millions of people has been decimated as a result of an exponential increase in unemployment rates.  Moreover, school closures have disturbed the main source of nutrition for over 370 million children around the world.

“Those suffering from hunger are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms as a result of associated health conditions, such as malnutrition and non-communicable diseases, which compromise the immune system. Compounding this is the fact that those who are hungry are often trapped in poverty and do not have access to health services, water and sanitation facilities, or indeed the space to quarantine or practice social distancing.

“In both our rapid response to the pandemic, and our long-term planning, it is imperative that we link food security to health interventions and investment in infrastructure.” (emphasis added)

 

For more analysis of COVID-19 and Africa, read my previous posts below:

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Food Shortages and COVID-19 in Africa: Interviews With Lawrence Freeman

Breaking the cycle of food shortage in Africa with fertilizer and technology (courtesy of Global Farmer Network)

April 7, 2020

UN warns of food shortages across globe

Please view this 7 minute interview with Lawrence Freeman on PressTV. Watch: Interview: COVID-19-Hunger in Africa

In this interview with PressTV, Mr Freeman discusses the implications of the food shortages in Africa as a result of the spread of the coronavirus. He said: “The morality of world is on trial. Life has to be put above everything else.”

According  to The United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the coronavirus pandemic could cause food shortages for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The WFP said “Africa is the most vulnerable continent. It added that for many poor countries, the economic consequences of COVID-19 outbreak will be more devastating than the disease itself.”

COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

In the first 15 minutes of this programs, Mr. Freeman discuses the implications of the coronavirus in Africa. Watch: COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

Africa Union Needs to Demand More

The communique released by the African Union on April 3, does not go far enough. The AU should be leading an all out effort to save lives in Africa and a full mobilization to build-up Africa’s weak healthcare infrastructure. Read: African Union: COVID-19

For more on COVID-19 read my two recent articles below.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

World Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19

The World Needs A New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19

Lawrence Freeman

April 5, 2020

Today April 5, the total cases of COVID-19-(coronavirus) in Africa are 8,536, deaths 360, and recoveries 710. On March 30, one week ago, the total cases were 4760, deaths 146, and recoveries 355. The diagram above shows the increased rate of the spread of COVID-19 across the African continent. In my March 30 article, New Economic Order Required to Combat COVID-19 in Africa, I concluded with a call for a New Just Economic Order, if humankind is going to effectively conquer the current pandemic.

We have come to a moment in the evolution of our civilization that we must acknowledge the failures of the present political-financial system. The Western-advanced sector nations, lacking an in depth and over-supplied health infrastructure have found themselves utterly unprepared to deal with the latest and most deadly zoonotic virus, COVID-19. The G-7 nations with a population of 750 million, and 39% ($34 trillion) of the world’s GDP are grabbling to muster the resources and capacity to defeat the coronavirus, while 90% of the world’s 7.5 billion people live with a frail health infrastructure, or none at all.

We have witnessed an increasing number of new zoonotic viruses (SARS, MERS, Swine Flu, HIV/AIDS) over recent decades. Humanity will only successfully defend itself by launching a global upgrading of healthcare including new scientific research into how human immune systems can become less susceptible to viruses that originate in animals.

Inadequate healthcare and impoverished living conditions in the developing sector cannot continue. It is a crime that has been perpetuated for decades, and the very survival of humanity screams out for a revolution in our thinking and practices. Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, stated eloquently the link between Africa and the advanced sector in this current crisis: “Advanced economies are unveiling unprecedented economic stimulus packages. African countries, by contrast, lack the wherewithal to make similarly meaningful interventions. Yet if the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world.”  (emphasis added)  PM Abiy “If Covid-19 is not beaten in Africa it will return to haunt us all” .The virus can only be overcome in Africa, and the rest of the developing sector, if we launch a new economic system, one that values human life above servicing debt and avariciousness.

Perilous Conditions in Africa

Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that COVID-19 “is an existential threat to our continent.” The Africa CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) do not know the actual number of Africans infected with the virus, due to a lack of ability to test the population. Nor do they have an accurate count of the number of ventilators available in each African nation. Over a month since the appearance of the coronavirus on the continent, experts estimate that Africa is at the early phase of its proliferation.

The United Nations World Food Program warned that “the coronavirus pandemic threatens to cause food shortages for hundreds of millions of people especially in Africa,” according to Naharnet. “For many poor countries, the economic consequences will be more devastating than the disease itself.” Pandemic Threatens Food In Import Reliant States

An article published by Quartz, Africa Has About One Doctor for Every 5000 People cites a report by the (WHO), that Africa in 2013 “had a deficit of estimated 1.8 million healthcare worker that is projected to rise 4.3 million by 2035.”  One reason, according to the article is that: “Currently, there are only 170 medical schools serving the 47 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Of those countries, 6 have no medical schools, and 20 have only one medical school.”

Statistics for the number of doctors per 1,000 population for African nations are horrifying. Physicians Per 1,000 People. When Compared to the figures for advanced sector nations that are now “hot spots” for COVID-19 to those of Africa, where the incidence of the virus is weeks behind Europe and the United States, Africa’s potential death rate is frightening.

Examine these estimates: U.S. has 2.3 doctors for 1,000 people, Spain 3.2, Italy 4.2, and South Korea 1.8. The average for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has an absurdly low 0.21 doctors for 1,000 people. Twenty SSA nations have .08 doctors or less to treat 1,000 of their citizens, with several at levels of 0.03 and 0.02 doctors. Two orders of magnitude less physicians than the nations that today are experiencing the highest mortality rates.

Governor Cuomo of New York, and Mayor de Blasio of New York City beg every day for more healthcare professionals, ventilators and PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment) to deal with the overload of coronavirus cases, Imagine what the potential death rate of Africa’s almost 1.5 billion population could be when one factors in extreme levels of poverty, weakened immune systems, and malnourishment, all prevalent on the African continent.

(Courtesy of SlideShare)

UNCTAD’s $2.5 Trillion Strategy

The March 30, 2020, statement by the United Nations Conference on Trade and DevelopmentUNCTADUN Calls for $2.5 Trillion Coronavirus Crisis Package for Developing Countries  is excerpted below.

“The consequences of a combined health pandemic and a global recession will be catastrophic for many developing countries and halt their progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.”

UNCTAD’S strategy includes:

  • $1 trillion of debts owed by developing countries should be cancelled this year
  • $500 billion needed to fund a Marshall Plan for health recovery and dispersed as grants

Credit for a New Economic Order

Debt cancellation, and a Marshall Plan to build up health infrastructure for the developing sector nations are crucial for the survival of emerging nations. However, to break from the old political-financial system that has failed us, and to create a new economic platform, we must create credit for physical economic growth.

What is missing from UNCTAD’s proposal, and what is absent from all United Nations strategies, is the understanding of the importance of establishing a mechanism for the creation of credit. Following in the footsteps of President George Washington and his brilliant Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, we should establish a National Credit Bank. Nations Must Study Alexander Hamilton’s Principles of Political Economy. Wisely, the US Constitution provides for the federal government, not the states, to issue public credit to promote the general welfare.

Credit for production and infrastructure, unlike mere money, is the sine qua non for any healthy economy. This is not the same as printing trillions of dollars of money to bail out an over extended monetary system with a bubble of over one quadrillion of dollars in debt and derivatives.

Debts of developing sector nations must be cancelled to clear the decks for the issuance of new credit directed to fostering industrialized economies with healthy agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Extended credit with low interest rates must be issued for long term investments in vital construction of infrastructure. This is a life and death matter for the very survival of African nations.

Every government is obliged to create a national bank for the sole purpose of generating physical economic growth critical for the security and future health of that nation. Instead of relying on the present global financial institutions that dictate loan agreements at unnecessarily high interest rates coupled with arduous conditionalities we should create a new global economic system. One founded on the principles that promote the true shared common good for all nations and all peoples. Under this new system sovereignty is inviolate, and trade and credit agreements are premised on improving the material conditions of life for the people of those nations. All political and economic relationships between nations should be to benefit the general welfare of its citizenry.

Human beings are sacred, financial systems are not. We can and should craft new monetary systems to advance progress, not monetary profits. President Franklin Roosevelt created the Bretton Woods System, with the intention of uplifting the planet from the misery of World War II. He had magnificent ideas for promoting economic growth around the world, including greening the deserts of Africa.  Sadly, after his death, Bretton Woods was perverted, and became the opposite of what he intended.

While we must fight this deadly virus with all the resources that governments can assemble, we need to also think to the future; the creation of a more advanced economic platform. It is up to us create a new architype of relationships among sovereign nation states to transform the world out of the ashes of its present decayed state. Let us call this new paradigm by its proper name–A New Just World Economic Order

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

Hunger Stalks Africa: Nations Should be Food Self-Sufficient

Desert Locust invade Ethiopia (Courtesy TESFANEWS)

February 27, 2020

Right now, as I write, two regions of Africa are experiencing food emergencies: East Africa and Southern Africa. This is a crime against humanity. There is no objective reason for starvation and malnutrition in this continent rich with arable land. Actions should be taken today, not tomorrow, to reverse this life threatening, but preventable food shortage. It is morally repugnant to witness so many human beings perishing due to the persistence of poverty, hunger, and disease in Africa.

On January 20th, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) requested a mere $76 million to combat the spread of the destructive Desert Locusts.  A just released joint statement-UN Joint Statement on Locust in East Africa signed by several organizations, Locust in Africa: A Race Against Time, reports that since February, the locust swarms originally sighted in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, have spread to South Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania,  and have reached the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has not since a locust incursion since 1944.  With the expansion of the locust invasion, the FAO has doubled its request for emergency funding to $138 million, of which only $33 million, less than 25% has been collected of pledged.

In this region of the world the food supply is already so fragile that 20 million Africans are deemed food insecure. Experts estimate that a one square kilometer swarm of Desert Locusts can consume as much food as 35,000 people in one day, which potentially increases the number of food insecure Africans in this zone to almost 40 million.

The joint communique boldly states: “The next wave of locusts could devastate East Africa’s most important crop of the year, right when it is most vulnerable. But that doesn’t have to happen. The Window of opportunity is still open. The time to act is now.”

The statement concludes: “It is time for the international community to act more decisively. The math is clear, as is our moral obligation. Pay a little now, or pay a lot more late.”

Read: UN Joint Statement on Locust in East Africa

Read my recent post: End Threat of Locust Plague: Transform the Desert

 

Village women receive aid from a charity organisation in Chirumhanzi, Zimbabwe, File picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Village women receive aid from a charity organisation in Chirumhanzi, Zimbabwe, File picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Southern Africa

Simultaneously, on the Southern end of the Africa continent; Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Lesotho, and Eswanti (Swaziland) are also facing shortages of food.

Journalist, Shannon Ebrahim, reports that “according the World Food Program (WFP), 7.7 million Zimbabweans are facing the worst hunger emergency in a decade…An astounding 90% of infants are malnourished and have stunted growth.” However, severe food shortages are not limited to Zimbabwe

“In Angola, 2.4 million are affected by food insecurity, where children are barely eating one meal a day. World Vision staff in Angola report they have never seen hunger and malnutrition on this scale.

“In Zambia, 2.3 million are facing acute hunger, and in Eswatini 24% of the population are suffering food shortages. In Lesotho, 20% of the population is food insecure

WFP regional director for southern Africa Lola Castro has said, “The hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve never seen before and evidence shows it’s going to get worse.”

Ebrahim writes, “As a result of drought, widespread flooding, and economic problems, 45 million people in southern Africa are facing food shortages.”

Hunger Can Be Eliminated

Droughts, locusts, and other disasters that contribute to food insecurity may not easily be prevented, but human intervention can mitigate and surmount so called natural catastrophes. However, there is no justifiable reason for hunger to persist in a continent of abundant, fertile, arable land.

Food self-sufficiency, which is a national security priority, in this age of out sized and exaggerated globalization, has worsened in the majority of African nations over the last several decades.  Not only does this jeopardize the health and existence of society, but it drains nation’s foreign reserves with mega-food import expenditures.

The most critical, essential, fundamental, and undeniable ingredient to a successful agricultural sector, as well as a manufacturing sector, is infrastructure.  It is the sine qua non for progress. Africa is suffering from a lack of infrastructure, particularly in the most crucial categories of hard infrastructure; electrical power and railroads. No concerned official in Africa or from a friendly government, who does not place their emphasis on energy and rail, is not helping African nations to develop. No NGO activist, no matter how sincere, who does not advocate for such infrastructure is not truly helping Africans to free themselves from the shackles of poverty, hunger, and disease.

I do not make these statements lightly. Without massive construction of hard infrastructure, African nations will not have productive agricultural and manufacturing sectors capable of producing the physical goods necessary for society’s continued existence. This is a scientific-economic reality.

Why are trees being cut down across the Sahel? To provide firewood and charcoal for cooking. This is foolishness. Trees are one of the best means to reverse the march of the desert. However, trees are being cut down, because homes do not have access to electricity and gas. If a portion of the tens of billions of dollars being spent on “global warming” were spent providing electricity to the nations of the Sahel, the counterproductive practice of charcoaling would be eliminated. If we built the decades’ overdue East West railroad, along with irrigating the desert (again energy) we could, can, transform the desert.

Why should over 100 million Africans face food insecurity on this rich African continent? The truth is; there is no acceptable reason. Our own lack of action speaks volumes.

Read: Zimbabwe is Facing Starvation

Read my article below from March 22, 2017 

Famine in Africa: More Than Humanitarian Aid Required

 

End Threat of Locust Plague: Transform the Desert

End Locust Plagues: Transform the Desert

February 20, 2020

Lawrence Freeman

Today the food supply of East Africa is threatened by a locust swarm that is ravaging crops in several nations. The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is an extremely destructive pest that is found from West Africa, east across the African continent to the Middle East, India, and Asia.

A Desert Locust upsurge can grow into a swarm, and under the right conditions develop into a plague, affecting two or more regions with concentrated locust infestations. When locust swarms grow and migrate, they endanger the food supply of dozens of nations that comprise a large portion of the earth’s surface. The 1986-1989 plague is reported to have affected over 40 nations destroying crops in the Sahel, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and southwestern Asia.

In 2016, the World Metrological Organization (WMO), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO), released a report, Weather and Desert Locusts, documenting that the invasion area of the Desert Locusts extends to 30 million square kilometers, over 11.5 million square miles-almost the size of the entire African continent.

The international community must initiate a full scale military style operation to support African nations with resources and personnel, if we are to prevent thousands of more Africans from starvation. Africa, Arabia, India, Pakistan cannot afford a new plague; we have the power to act now to prevent such a catastrophe.

Now is also the opportune time for civilization to confront the more difficult task of “eliminating” desert conditions that spawn the locust. Many initiatives and water infrastructure projects exist to begin the greening of the Sahel.

East Africa’s Food Supply at Risk

A swarm of these deadly locusts can reach several billion, covering an area of 200 by 120 kilometers. Each locust consumes its weight daily in food-2grams, resulting in a loss of hundreds of thousands of tons of food meant to feed the population. According to the United Nations’ (FAO), “each square kilometer of swarm can include 40 to 80 million locusts and eat as much food as 35,000 people.”

The swarms are active in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and have spread to Uganda, and South Sudan. It is estimated that 11 million people are already considered food insecure in this region of Africa. According to the U.N., this new invasion of locust swarms could cause food insecurity to an additional 20 million Africans. The UN reports that the swarms are the largest that Somalia, and Ethiopia have experienced in a quarter of a century. Kenya has not faced this severe of an incursion in 70 years. Somalia has declared a national emergency, in response to the Desert Locust invasion, as has Pakistan. Already, 71,000 acres of farmland in Ethiopia and Somalia have been destroyed.

Keith Cressman, senior forecaster for the FAO, reported that the swarms have moved across the border into Tanzania and Uganda. He said: “Action taken in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya – as well as Pakistan – will now determine what happens next. If the current upsurge crosses more borders and infests more regions, devastating more crops, it could be declared a ‘plague’.”

The Uganda government has responded appropriately to the threat to their food supply by deploying the military to assist in spraying of pesticides.

Desert Locust invade Ethiopia (Courtesy TESFANEWS)

Emergency Action Required

The U.N. has asked for $76 million in immediate aid. So far just under $20 million is in hand, including $10 million released from the U.N. emergency relief fund and $3.8 million from FAO. The United States originally agreed to contribute $800,000, and the European Union 1 million Euros. However, even with a pledge of $8 million to fight the locust incursion, announced by Secretary of State, Mike Pampeo during his recent visit to Ethiopia, the total is barely more than a third of the funds requested. The international community is being dangerously shortsighted, if not morally criminal, by allowing the locust swarms to exacerbate existing food shortages.

Dominique Burgeon, the FAO’s emergency and resilience director warned that without aerial spraying the current surge can turn into a plague, “and when you have a plague, it takes years to control.”  Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top humanitarian official, told ambassadors at a UN briefing last week: “We are running out of time. We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we are doing at the moment.”

It is imperative the aerial and ground spraying be expanded immediately, and all necessary resources be provided. African nations lack the adequate number of planes necessary, most having less than a handful that can be deployed to combat the swarm. According to The New Humanitarian, the five planes that Kenya deployed to break up the swarms initially faced a shortage of the insecticide, fenitrothion. They report that the Deputy Minister of Agriculture for Somalia, Maud Ali Hassan said, “We are lacking all resources, including the expertise to prevent a humanitarian disaster.”

In addition to the full complement of aerial and ground spraying that must include a sufficient number of planes, insecticide, and four wheel drive vehicles to reach remote areas, which the locust infected nations lack, Cressman raises the possible deployment of drone technology.

Ultra Low Volume spraying with insecticides produces a mist with droplets that has proved effective in killing this deadly pest.

In his article, Preventing the spread of desert locust swarms, Cressman writes: “The operational use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – also known as drones – could potentially overcome these limitations in many affected nations. In the field, UAVs could be used to automatically collect high-resolution imagery of green, vegetated areas potentially affected by locusts”

Civilian satellite imaging is being employed. However, advanced imagery is needed to locate more precisely infested and breeding areas. This requires that African nations have access to imagery from military satellites, which would also necessitate that their technicians be properly trained to interpret the data.

The application of electron magnetic pulses and other electromagnetic devices to emit tuned frequencies specifically aimed at killing the locusts should also be utilized in this war against these lethal pests.

An all-out war against the spread of locusts, using all available technologies is required to save the food supply of African nations already suffering from nutrition deficiency. The cost cannot be a factor for inaction. Whether it is $80 million, $100 million or several hundred million dollars: this is a small price to pay to prevent another plague. Compare this relatively minor cost to the obscene amounts of money-billions of dollars-being spent on the US Presidential primaries. The Desert Locust assault on humanity can be arrested, if we act now, with full force!

Transform the Desert

Desert Locusts “are always present somewhere in the deserts between Mauritania and India…ready to mate when conditions are favorable. Eggs are usually laid in areas of bare sandy soil and require previous rainfall,” according to the report, Weather and Desert Locusts.

Since the sands, dry heat, and winds of African deserts create propitious conditions for the breeding and migration of desert locust, why not eliminate-i.e. transform the desert?

Contrary to popular beliefs, the Sahel and Sahara Deserts are not the natural-pristine state of North Africa. The desert was created millions of years ago when the African Plate migrated north, cut off the Tethys Sea and crashed into what is now known as Europe. The Sahara Desert was originally under water. The Sahara also alters itself, from three million square miles of arid sand into a tropical climate with lush vegetation, and waters filled with whales, and hippopotami. This occurs every 20-25,000 years in accordance with the cycle of rotation of our planet’s axis, known as the earth’s wobble. Given that the most recent drying up of the Sahara occurred approximately 5,500  years ago, the rains are not expected to return for another 15-20,000 years. However, we cannot afford to sit by idly for thousands of years suffering the harsh conditions of the desert.

Humankind was fashioned to intervene on our universe, to improve its condition, to enhance the biosphere in which we exist. The concept of the physical universe, that includes the lawful intervention of human creativity, was conceived as the “Noosphere” by the great Ukrainian geologist and scientist of the twentieth century, Vladimir Vernadsky.

The Sahara Desert has been an impediment for Africa’s development throughout hundreds of thousands of years. More recently, this uninhibited desolate expanse of land has become home to numerous violent extremist organizations that have challenged the sovereignty of Mali, and Nigeria’s Borno State.  Military only responses have so far failed to dislodge the terrorists from his region.

Think Big, Bold and in the Future

The physical universe is organized to respond to “noetic” intervention, i.e. humankind’s powers of reason. We should not be sitting on the sidelines watching disasters occur, but rather preventing so called natural catastrophes.

With sufficient density of infrastructure, functioning farms, towns, and cities, can replace mountains of desert sand. Deserts have been conquered in other parts of the world. An East-West railroad across sub-Saharan Africa from the Indian to Atlantic Ocean, which should have been built decades ago, would have already modified the Sahel and Sahara. It would be accompanied by a new platform of energy, trade, and industry that would revolutionize the economies of East and West Africa. A rail link across the Sahara, connecting this newly built East-West railroad to the nations of the Maghreb, and ultimately to Europe, would join the economies of the sub-continent to those of the Eurasian land mass. Sand would be supplanted by concrete and steel.

The desert can be converted into arable land by introducing moisture to this arid territory. Once there is continual penetration of water into the sand, vegetation and growth will occur, eventually altering transpiration cycles. This will cause a change in the volume, and patterns of rainfall.  Tree transpiration is the process by which water is carried through the tree from the roots to small pores on the underside of leaves and released into the atmosphere by evaporation. Trees consuming carbon dioxide and releasing moisture and oxygen, are the “best friends” of human beings and the environment.

Transaqua, a transnational infrastructure project to replenish the shrinking Sahelian Lake Chad to its previous area of 25,000 square kilometers, has been endorsed by the Nigerian government, and is awaiting a feasibility study.  Expanding Lake Chad with an annual flow of billions of cubic meters of water would affect climatic conditions across the Lake Chad Basin, and increase transpiration.

It is also necessary to aggressively move forward with the Pan African Great Green Wall Project (PAGGW), which  focuses on greening a strip of land of 15 km. wide and about 8,000 km. long that  will affect 20 nations including Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. PAGGW was adopted by the African Union in 2007 and ratified by member countries in 2010.

Another transnational infrastructure project that complements the Great Green Wall is the Trans Africa Pipeline (TAP). It is the first permanent solution to end devastating drought and increasing desertification across the Sahel region of northern Africa.

TAP is an 8,000 km. long freshwater pipeline that will provide clean, potable drinking water to 28-30 million people in 11 countries of the African Sahel. TAP will construct large-scale desalination plants on the west and east coasts of Africa. Regional tank farms and pumping stations for water storage and distribution would cross the Sahel for the management of the water source, which in turn can create upwards of 280,000 jobs across the Sahel.

The Trans Africa Water Pipeline has an agreement with the Pan African Great Green Wall Initiative, and both together can address 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals, but all member states and relevant stakeholders are needed to bring both projects to fruition.

We cannot impotently watch a pest, a mere insect, damage our human environment, when we have the means to defeat it.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

 

UN Sec-Gen Guterres: “The Winds of Hope Are Growing in Africa”

August 30, 2019

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama, Japan, on 28 August 2019

Let us remember what Pope Paul VI wrote in his 1967 encyclical; “On the Development of Peoples”: the new name for peace is development.  UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ support for development of Africa at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development-  (TICAD) conference is salient. Japan’s motivation to invest in Africa’s infrastructure is not to counter China. And China is not attempting to build a new colonial empire in Africa. These false characterizations are expressions from the old geo-political financial system that is losing its control over global policy. Witness the the utter failure of the G-7 Summit of so the called advanced sector nations. The Western banking system is about to collapse again as a result of the central banks pumping in into the financial system $17 trillion of “quantitative easing” over the last ten years.  The US should stop attacking China’s new paradigm of development typified by its Belt and Road Initiative-(BRI), and President Trump should end his stupid, counter productive tariffs. The world needs leadership to lift the planet onto a new scientifically driven economic platform that will not only end poverty and hunger in the developing sector, but also raise the standard of living of all nations. 

In this spirit, one concrete initiative that should be taken up at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly-(UNGA )is; funding for recharging the shrinking Lake Chad. The Transaqua inter-basin water transfer project has the support of the nations of the Lake Chad Basin and UN Sec Gen Guterres. This project, which has been called, “A Kwame Nkrumah Pan- African Infrastructure Project,” would transform the Lake Chad Basin. With the head of the Nigerian Mission to UN, Ambassador Tijjan Muhamed-Bande, presiding over this year’s UNGA, and Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari  an ardent supporter of recharging the lake, we are at a propitious moment for the UN take bold action for the Lake Chad Basin.   

Excerpts: 

“African nations have made ‘significant progress’ in developmental efforts in the last few years, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday, kicking off the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), taking place in Yokohama.

“I see Africa as a dynamic continent of opportunity where winds of hope are blowing ever stronger,” Mr. Guterres expressed

“Africa needs peace for its development” the Secretary-General said in closing.

“I look forward to productive discussions over the next days that will culminate in a common understanding of the priorities for common and coherent action to promote peace and sustainable development across Africa.

ReadFor Africa the Winds of Hope are Growint Stronger

ReadUnited Nations Conference: The Lake Chad Basin Should not be ‘Managed’; it Should be ‘Transformed.’

United Nations Conference: The Lake Chad Basin Should not be ‘Managed’; it Should be ‘Transformed.’

August 19, 2019

United Nations Headquarters, August 5-6, 2019

On August 5-6, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Third International Conference on the Lake Chad Basin Region: SDG Implementation-UN System and Non-State Actors Exploring New ways of Cooperation.” The two-day conference at the United Nations Headquarters was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations, under the guidance of Dr. Ibrahim Umar. The assemblage was first addressed by ambassadors from three of the nations of the Lake Chad Basin; Permanent Representatives from the UN Missions of Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Lawrence Freeman with Dr. Ibrahim Umar, Nigerian Mission to the United Nations

The convening of this UN session is in response to the worsening living conditions for approximately 30 million Africans living in the Lake Chad Basin, whose livelihood is centered around the shrinking Lake Chad. Today the estimated area of Lake Chad varies from 1200-1300 square kilometers to upwards of 2,000; a 90% contraction from its 1963 level of 25,000 square kilometers.  During the afternoon panel of the first day, the conditions of Lake Chad were addressed by Charles Ichoku, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Howard University, and this author, who is Vice Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

Transforming is Superior to Managing 

Dominating the conference were speakers representing NGOs and international organizations, who accurately depicted the extent of the horrific humanitarian, refugee, and food crises prevailing in the region in detail. Regrettably, there were those who accepted the diminutive size of Lake Chad as unalterable. Some of the participants offered short term solutions and others believed that the recharging of the lake is not an easy or viable option. However, they miss the point; that to comprehensively address the issue of the Lake Chad Basin will require nothing less than the full recharging of Lake Chad. It is only in this way that the humanitarian issues, poverty and underdevelopment can be tackled in the long run. In my presentation I challenged some of the pessimistic thinking in the conference by stating unequivocally: “None of the solutions that have been discussed will work, unless the lake is recharged.” It should be noted that United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has pledged to collaborate with President Buhari of Nigeria, to raise the $50 billion necessary for the recharging of the lake.

Lawrence Freeman addressing the United Nations Conference on the Lake Chad Basin on the first day

My slide presentation demonstrated how the lake can be recharged to its previous level through Transaqua, an inter-basin water transfer project. Transaqua, designed in 1980 by Dr. Vichi of the Italian engineering firm, Bonifica, proposed to build a 2,400-kilometer canal created from 5-8% of the water in the Congo River Basin. The navigable gravity-driven canal would connect to the Chari River, in the Central Africa Republic, which releases its flow into Lake Chad. This bold innovative project is a “win-win” for the twelve nations of the Lake Chad and Congo River Basins, and for all of Africa. Responding to the necessity of recharging the shrinking Lake Chad, the project provides a unique opportunity to create a super economic “development zone” amongst the nations of the two basins. Trade, and commerce would increase by orders of magnitudes, hydroelectric power would be produced, millions of additional hectares would be irrigated, new roads created, new fisheries and manufacturing centers would be built. This author also presented to the audience the conclusions from the three-day International Conference to Save Lake Chad, held in Abuja Nigeria-February 26-28, 2018, at which the Heads of State from the nations of the Lake Chad Basin, endorsed Transaqua as the preferred method to expand the lake.

Both before and after my presentation numerous presenters spoke out against “big projects” and “diverting water” as if the Africans suffering in the region want the lake to remain at 10% of its previous level. International intervention and technology to alleviate the conditions in the basin were also eschewed in favor of local projects and listening to the so called “voice of the people.” Manage! Manage the existing deplorable conditions; don’t even dare think of changing-improving was echoed repeatedly.

On the second day, this author was compelled to speak out against the condescending attitude that assumes Africans do not want to enjoy the same standard of living as all the speakers from the US and Europe. I asked, if they thought that those people struggling for daily survival within the Lake Chad Basin wouldn’t desire clean running water, and having access to 1,500 watts of electricity 24 hours a day all year?

 

A slide presented by Mr. Freeman at the UN conference displaying the Transaqua inter-basin water transfer project

Underlying Cultural Beliefs About Mankind

Approximately five to six thousand years ago Lake Chad was a mega lake comprising 1,000,000 square kilometers. There are reports that several hundred years ago, Lake Chad almost disappeared. The lake sits on top of three aquifers and are adjacent to the gigantic Nubian Sandstone Aquifer.  Clearly the growth and shrinkage of the lake over millennia predates so called anthropomorphic caused climate change. Lake Chad is fed by river systems from Nigeria and Cameroon, the most significant contributor being the Chari River from the Central African Republic. With the southern movement of the Tropical Conversion Zone there is less rainfall thus reducing the flow of water into the lake. The closest source of water to refill and maintain Lake Chad is the super moist Congo River Basin, hundreds of kilometers south. A feasibility study should confirm the Transaqua hypothesis for the potential of a continuous flow of water into Lake Chad, resulting in transforming the entire region.

The failure to test and analyze the Transaqua proposal for almost four decades, even though many people were concerned about the worsening conditions resulting from the shrinking lake, leads us to examine a deeper cultural problem.

Over the last half century, Western societies have become victims of cultural pessimism. Our cultural paradigm has shifted away from one of optimism and confidence in human’s ability to discover new scientific principles that lead to technological revolutions for the betterment of humanity. In the years following the historic 1969 landing of humans on the Moon, inspired by the leadership of President John Kennedy, our culture has been dramatically altered for the worse. The previously discredited Malthusian dogma reasserted itself, with false assertions that if population growth was not stopped the planet would run out of resources. This was accompanied with hysterical calls for population reduction. Over time, as our culture became more decadent, the very progress of our society was assailed with attacks on science, technology, and industrialization.  In this new perverted ideology humankind, (made in the image of the Creator) became the devil-the source of evil itself in the world.

Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad Bande speaking at a reception hosted by the UN Nigerian Mission for the Lake Chad Basin conference

Contrary to declarations  that humans are destroying the environment, there is no such adversarial relationship. The physical universe is organized on the principle of continuous development and is predisposed to respond positively to the intervention of human creativity. Humankind is not just a caretaker or a steward. Humanity was created to interact with the universe for unending growth. Reflect on the biblical injunction in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Yes, we can and must transform the Lake Chad Basin. We can end suffering, hunger, and poverty in that region, and across the African continent. That is what humankind was created to accomplish. Let us not reject our fundamental human essence: to willfully transform our planet (the universe) for the perpetuation of our uniquely creative species.

 

Distributed at the UN conference reported on above: UN Statement on Transaqua for Lake Chad

Distributed at the Abuja, Nigeria conference 2/26-28/2018:  Now Is the Time to Think Big and In the Future 

Africa Moving Forward With Infrastructure: Nigeria and Ethiopia

July 28, 2019

President Buhari has maintained his commitment to recharging Lake Chad, which he discussed with me after he was elected to his first term as president in Mach 2015. The International Conference to ‘Save Lake Chad’ held in Abuja, (February 26-28, 2018) adopted the Transaqua inter-basin water transfer project as the preferred solution to reversing the shrinking Lake Chad and transforming the economy of the Lake Chad Basin.  President Buhari has received support form the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, for the recharging of Lake Chad. I am certain there will be further discussion at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in September regarding Lake Chad, and restoring economic vitality to the Lake Chad Basin. 

Nigeria reiterates commitment to recharge Lake Chad

For more on Transaqua read:

Transaqua Water Project to Save Lake Chad: Roosevelt and Nkrumah Would Concur

The Time Has Come For Transaqua

Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway wins acclaim for driving Ethiopia’s import-export needs

I had the privilege to attend the inauguration of the Addis-Djibouti electrified railroad and travel on its maiden trip on October 6, 2016. 

Xinhua-July 24, 2019

“The Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti standard gauge railway on Tuesday received acclaim for driving Ethiopia’s import-export endeavors as it leveraged the growing transportation needs of the country.

“The railway, which connects landlocked Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa with ports in Djibouti, mainly garnered the praise for its contribution in the transportation of the much-needed imported agricultural inputs to the East African country.

“According to figures from the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Company, the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, over the past few months period, had transported about 70,000 tons of fertilizer from the Djibouti port to Ethiopia as the main harvesting season approaches.

“”We do this under the agreement with the Ethiopian Agriculture Works Corporation, and as fertilizer is considered to be an important commodity which has to be transported very quickly,” Ethiopia’s state-run news agency quoted Aminu Juhar, EDR Planning Manager, as saying on Tuesday.

“The 756-km railway, which officially commenced its commercial operations for both passenger and freight services between the two countries in January last year, has been instrumental in leveraging transportation needs of Ethiopia from its neighboring Red Sea nation of Djibouti.

“Juhar, who noted the railway’s “significant role in delivering fertilizers needed by farmers on time,” stressed that the much-needed fertilizer have been transported in 26 rounds with the capacity of transporting 2,590 tons of fertilizer in a single trip.

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