COVID-19 has not been as lethal for Africa as international aid organizations predicted, but the resulting economic paralysis has left many poor people starving.
“The coronavirus pandemic has made things just terrible over here,” the director of a native ministry based in Kenya said. “It breaks my heart to see people thin, hungry and starving, and children crying on cold nights.”
The vulnerable poor in the “informal sector” – where day-laborers, petty traders and others work, and access to health care and coronavirus testing is negligible – have been hit hard by shutdowns and can be overlooked in official unemployment counts. It is among these people that local missionaries most often live and work.
Hope for resumption of income appeared to be on the horizon as Kenya and other African countries began to loosen travel and business restrictions this month, but the poor in rural areas have little time. The ministry leader said many people have been starving.
“One lady, when we delivered food to her family, they just saw the hands of God – she confessed that that they were starving, did not have anything at all to eat, and did not know at all what could have happened to them,” he wrote to Christian Aid Mission. “We have been able to spread your generosity to the people in the bush where we have been working; how sad the faces were while they were lining up to receive food, but you can see those big smiles as they received food from us.”
Fearful that COVID-19 cases would overrun their limited health care systems, African countries quickly imposed widespread shutdowns early in the pandemic.
At least 42 African countries had full or partial stay-at-home orders in place by mid-April, when there were only 22,400 cases and 900 deaths recorded in the region, according to U.N. figures cited in The New Humanitarian (TNH) magazine. Slowing down spread of the virus came with a hard economic hit; one study in June found that two-thirds of people in low-income areas of Nairobi had income reductions that forced them to borrow or resort to savings to survive, with more than 20 percent saying they faced increased hunger, TNH reported.
Kenya, which had braced for hospital overflows and prepared mass graves in cemeteries, reportedly hit a peak of 600 COVID-19 cases per day in August, but by mid-September that figure had decreased to fewer than 100 cases per day. By the middle of this month, the total number of fatalities was just over 800.
While some African countries have had infection rates of 30 to 40 percent, death rates have been low, and researchers believe under-counting only partially explains the low rate of COVID-19 deaths. Africa reportedly accounted for just 3.5 percent of global deaths when the number of COVID-19 deaths passed 1 million on Sept. 29, though the region contains 17 percent of the global population.
These numbers were far lower than predicted. Researchers writing for The Conversation, a non-profit news organization focused on academic studies, speculated that, along with swift shutdowns, death rates may have been low due to Africa’s younger population, pre-existing immunity, climate and genetic factors and different behaviors.
“However, one thing that does seem clear is the secondary effects of the pandemic will be Africa’s real COVID-19 challenge,” they wrote. “These stem from the severe interruptions of social and economic activities.”
Fear of Evictions
The leader of the native ministry in Kenya said that closure of animal markets has kept the poor from selling their goats and cows, while villagers who sold curios to foreign visitors have gone hungry as the pandemic closed off tourism.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has completely stopped the tourists from coming to Kenya to see the wild animals,” the leader said. “Our team is distributing food by motorbikes to the hurting, hungry Maasai people in the bush. The Lord has called us to love and serve the people, and it just breaks my heart to see people starving because of lack of food.”
A village mother who saw her landlord break into a neighbor’s house, toss all their belongings outside and throw the parents and children into the night cold was terrified when her rent debts piled up beyond what she could pay, he said.
“Through your gifts we helped to pay their accumulated house rent of US$80,” he said. “They told us that they were just about to be thrown out by the hired goons, and their children could have just lost their lives.”
The ministry leader said he was thankful for Christian Aid Mission donors who pray and sacrifice for the local missionaries and those they are serving.
“It has been very difficult over here as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – many people have been hungry and starving, and we would just like to thank you so much for being His arm here to reach out to the poor, suffering people here with His love and compassion,” the leader said. “We know that things have been very tough over there, but you have continued to sacrifice to help us save many lives. You have been friends of hurting, poor, neglected people in the slums; these people have been seeing the real love and compassion of Jesus Christ.”
Please consider a donation today to help local missionaries throughout Africa save the poor from the pandemic’s devasting blow to their ability to survive.