A humanitarian crisis is sweeping across Africa as wars, popular uprisings, separatist movements, drought, natural disasters and diseases displace people, raising serious questions on the priorities of economic managers and political leaders.
Apart from the well publicised war or instability in countries like Somalia, South Sudan, regions of Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic, Sudan, Libya and Algeria, more than half of African countries are in some form of turbulence, according to the United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).
The crises manifest themselves in big refugee populations, both internal and external, hunger and malnutrition, unemployment and civil strife as people compete for increasingly fewer resources — means of sustenance like water and land, social amenities like schools and basic commodities.
An assessment of humanitarian needs for this year by the UN shows that $25 billion will be required to assist 94 million people who are in need, including those in Syria.
So far, $14 billion has been pledged to the UN and the organisation would wish to reach another 46 million vulnerable people resources allowing.
Last year, more than half of the funding, or 55 per cent, went to Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria, proof that Africa bears the brunt of the humanitarian crisis despite overall economic and development gains.
While the bulk of the responsibility for stemming the crises lies with governments and political leaders, the UN believes the escalation of conflicts and cost can be reduced substantially through early detection and preventive measures.
“By working together, we can make anticipatory and early action become our default approach in addressing vulnerability and reducing the scale of a possible crisis. Our efforts will be measured in how many lives we manage to transform and save,” the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief co-ordinator Mark Lowcock said on Twitter last week.
He had just allocated $45 million for food and nutrition, safe water, livelihood protection and other emergency humanitarian support to drought-affected people across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Citing World Bank and World Food Programme findings, Mr Lowcock said early response to famine reduced costs by 30 per cent, with the cost of food in particular falling by half when bought early.
Early response to adversities outside the unpredictable natural disasters is expected to become more important as the rise in forced displacement is not the result of an increase in conflicts.
After peaking in 2014, the number of political conflicts worldwide decreased by a tenth to 385 in 2017 from 424 in 2014. However, the conflicts were more than the 328 recorded in 2007.
During the period, the proportion of violent and highly violent conflicts, which are more likely to cause human suffering, destruction and displacement, increased from 53 per cent to 58 per cent of all conflicts worldwide. The impact of the conflicts also lingers for longer from 5.2 years to 9.3 years.
This has seen the total economic impact of conflict and violence surge from $14.3 trillion in 2014 to $14.8 trillion in 2017. Africa and other developing countries bear the burden of the cost of the conflict with 85 per cent of refugees.
The loss to conflicts, according to the UN, has undermined equitable and inclusive development although the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped to 736 million from 1.2 billion between 2008 and 2015.
Over the same period global productivity rose from $63.4 trillion to $80.7 trillion in 2017.
With regard to the Horn of Africa relief, for instance, 11.5 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia are affected by drought. More than half of them — 5.8 million — are the displaced in Somalia and Ethiopia.
“The drought could further exacerbate the risk of displacement and will impact the already precarious situation of the internally displaced persons, especially newly displaced ones,” UN agencies said in a position paper last week.
Angola, Lesotho and Namibia are other African countries facing crisis because of prolonged drought. On May 6, Namibian President Gage Geingob declared drought a national emergency. Earlier, the government had said it would subsidise farmers who reduce their herd.
Namibia has not known normal rainfall since 2013 and 500,000 people are at risk. So far, 60,000 domestic animals have died this year alone.
In Angola, President Joao Lourenco declared drought a national emergency in January and followed it up with an admission this week that the situation could worsen for more than 2.3 million people who are in need of food.
"We are worried about the coming months, especially the next four or five months (until October), which is the beginning of the rains in the country. Until then, we believe that this picture, which we observe in Namibe and Cunene, will worsen,” said the president.
The Angolan government intends to buy plastic water containers, water tanker trucks, drill wells, build dams and water channels in four years as part of plans to mitigate future droughts.
In Lesotho, where 380,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, a study by ICAP at Columbia University found a link between adolescent girls exposed to severe drought conditions in rural areas and higher HIV prevalence.
Besides drought, Southern and Central Africa is shouldering more hardship wrought by the Ebola pandemic in the DR Congo.
According to a Unicef update on May 24, the outbreak threatens neighbouring Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia through movement of refugees.
Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia already host more than 530,000 refugees from politically unstable Burundi and DR Congo where Ebola, combined with rebel militias, has led to displacements.
“In Eswatini, Lesotho, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia more than 1.6 million people, including over 790,000 children, are in need of humanitarian assistance due to climate-related shocks, health emergencies and displacement, Unicef said.
Across Eastern and Southern Africa, the agency said, there are 4.1 million refugees; about a quarter of the global refugee population with war-torn South Sudan and Burundi being the main source.
Uganda, Ethiopia, Angola, Tanzania and Rwanda are the main recipients with 18,000 Congolese refugees having crossed over to neighbouring countries between January and March this year.
By March 2019, Tanzania had slightly more than 325,000 refugees, 198,000 of them being Burundians after a voluntary refugee repatriation programme was halted in December last year for lack of funding before it resumed in February to waning interest from those targeted.
“The number of refugees registering for voluntary repatriation has decreased in 2019, with more than 50 per cent retractions (20,000 had shown interest), no shows and convoy dropouts reported since November 2018. The exercise that run from September 2017 has managed to return 61,000 refugees to Burundi, only 5,000 of them this year.
DR Congo citizens constituted the majority of the 148,000 refugees in Rwanda followed by Burundi as was the case in Zambia where 78,000 people had fled to.
According to UNHCR, new arrivals of DRC refugees at Mantampala settlement in Zambia has stabilised this year since the onset of relative peace with the election of President Felix Tshisekedi in January.
The impact of drought in parts of Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mozambique worsened with the cyclones (Idai and Kenneth) that hit the countries in quick succession in March and May.
Despite a peace agreement signed by warring factions in Central Africa Republic in February, the security situation remains volatile.
Although civilians are the main victims of violence in the country, humanitarian staff and convoys are also key targets with 70 incidents reported in the year to March compared to 65 in the corresponding period last year, according to Ocha.
With the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States taking turns to lead the peace process in CAR and unwilling to take a decisive position on the combatants, Russia announced last week that it would send 30 troops to beef up the UN mission, MINUSCA, there.