In April, international advocacy organisation Oxfam released a statement all about highlighting extreme wealth inequality in West Africa. It said that, "despite relatively low levels of infections and deaths" the impact of the economic fallout of COVID-19 in West Africa was "staggering and widespread".
Among the many shocking stats and facts highlighted in the statement, were that the region experienced a loss in gross domestic product (GDP) estimated at $48.7 billion, and a loss of working hours equivalent to 7 million jobs; and that surveys from eight countries found more than 60% of citizens reported lost income or work because of COVID-19.
This gives us a powerful snapshot of the immediate economic effect of the pandemic in the West Africa region, which is made up of 16 countries and home to more than 420 million people.
Even before the pandemic, however, the situation was fragile. Despite small gains in the mission to end poverty and its systemic causes in the decade preceding COVID-19, the region was seeing high rates of extreme poverty, insecurity and conflict, poor health and education infrastructure, and a huge youth population beset with ever-rising unemployment levels.
With the pandemic, those gains already made have been rolled back, and millions more people have been pushed into extreme poverty, leaving West Africa as one of the most vulnerable regions in the world.
As part of Global Citizen’s 2022 campaign, End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can’t Wait, we’re rallying Global Citizens around the world to call on world leaders, business leaders, and more, to take action on three critical areas: breaking the systemic barriers that continue to keep people in poverty; empowering adolescent girls, who are the most vulnerable demographic of the population globally; and taking urgent and meaningful climate action. Through all of this, we'll be working and campaigning to defend advocacy, and protect and lift up the voices of the world's activists.
As Global Citizens, we know that the resources needed to end poverty, tackle climate change, eradicate hunger, and more, exist — what's lacking is the political will to deliver the widespread action and funding needed now to achieve these vital goals.
Now, we're mobilising Global Citizens across Africa and around the world, to take action to urge world leaders to step up and take action, for girls, for the planet, and to create change.
Here are some important facts that every Global Citizen should know — all about poverty and the systemic barriers that keep people in poverty — to help highlight why it's so important for us all to act together now to drive real, sustainable change in West Africa and around the world.
1. At least 25 million people in West Africa can't afford to meet their basic food needs in 2022 — up 34% since 2020.
Flood, drought, conflict, and the economic effects of COVID-19 in West Africa are some of the factors contributing to the food and hunger crisis the region is currently experiencing. According to an Oxfam report, the number of people in need of emergency food assistance nearly quadrupled, from 7 million to 27 million, between 2015 and 2022.
The UN also said in January this year that “people have been forced to sell their assets and livelihoods in order to get enough to eat,” with the situation being worse for people in areas where there is conflict or insecurity.
2. No West African country is on track to hit the 70% COVID-19 vaccination rate the WHO recommends.
Back in 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set a global target for countries to administer primary vaccination to 70% of their adult populations by mid-2022, for the world to beat COVID-19. No West African country, and indeed no African country, is on track to hit this target — despite many countries globally having already administered booster shots to their populations, due to vast and persistent vaccine inequity.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control (AfricaCDC) dashboard shows that, in West Africa, no country has yet vaccinated up to 40% of their adult population. Countries such as Nigeria (which is home to half of the region's population and the most populous Black nation in the world), Mali, and Senegal are further behind with less than 10% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
This not only leaves the region at risk of another breakout of the coronavirus, which its health infrastructure and economy is not prepared to deal with, it also slows down the rate of recovery from the pandemic, risking pushing even more people into poverty.
3. The 3 richest men in West Africa saw their wealth grow by $6.4 billion during the pandemic.
While many people in West Africa and globally have seen their livelihoods and income disappear amid COVID-19, on the other end of the spectrum, the story has been quite different. The wealth of the three richest men in West Africa grew by $6.4 billion in the first 17 months of the pandemic, which would be more than enough to vaccinate all West Africans.
According to Oxfam, the wealth these three men have amassed during COVID-19 could lift 18 million people in the region out of poverty and keep these three men as rich as they were before the pandemic. This type of inequality further limits the fight to end extreme poverty in West Africa and only serves to keep more people in vulnerable conditions.
4. 11 of West Africa’s 16 countries are currently in debt distress.
According to a May 2022 report by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), 11 countries in the region are currently under debt distress and could soon start to default on mounting external debt.
“We also find that a financial catastrophe [caused] by a debt crisis in one country may spread throughout the region. The financial woes in Nigeria, in particular, portends a serious threat to other nations in the region,” the report said.
This means that governments in the region have less funds to spend on things like education, health, and social protection programs, with most of their revenue going toward servicing debts. Ultimately, the economic impact will push more vulnerable people into poverty and reduce their ability to generate income for themselves and their families.
5. West Africa remains one of the worst places to be a woman in the world.
The West Africa region is one of the most unkind places to women in the world: harmful cultural practices, the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, economic inequality, misogynistic laws, and political exclusion are just a few of the issues West African women currently live with.
Women and girls are also extremely vulnerable to the insecurity and conflict in the region, which has steadily risen over the past few years. More young women and girls are being abducted or forced from their homes by violence, while their schools and places of business are being attacked by violent armed groups in various parts of the region.
“For far too many women and girls who are experiencing displacement, gender-based violence is a daily occurrence. Forced marriage and child marriage, physical and sexual violence, and sexual exploitation all contribute to thousands of people feeling trapped and powerless,” said Modou Diaw, Regional Vice President for West Africa for the International Rescue Committee, on June 27.
6. West Africa’s coastline faces significant risk from climate change.
Climate change in the form of rising sea levels and flooding are battering the West African coastline, forcing thousands of people living in coastal communities to move further inland.
In a region where agriculture is a dominant activity, drought and unreliable rainfall is also driving increased internal migration. While, with ballooning population growth and persistent food insecurity, the impact of climate change on crop yields will be devastating.
"Climate change transcends borders. All our countries are affected by the increase in extreme phenomena, floods, heat waves, coastal erosion... We must assess and respond," said Sékou Sangaré, Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment, and Water Resources with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in May 2022.
7. Extreme poverty in West Africa rose to nearly 3% in 2021.
According to a report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 published in Janurary 2021 by ECOWAS, “the proportion of people in the region living with less than $1.90 a day increased from 2.3% in 2020 to 2.9% in 2021.”
Border closures, movement restrictions, and the disruption of supply chains during the first year and half of the coronavirus pandemic caused huge disruptions in income-generating activities and pushed the increase in food prices, according to the report.
West Africans working in the informal economy such as “small traders, street vendors, and casual workers” who make up a huge portion of the economy were the most affected by these shocks, the ECOWAS report says.
You can join Global Citizens around the world in taking action right now, to help tackle poverty, end hunger, address climate change, achieve gender equality, and more. All you need to do is download the Global Citizen app, or sign up on our website, to become a Global Citizen and head here to start taking action. Together, we are a powerful force to drive real change.