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COVID’s Aftershocks: Heat waves and heatflation

View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter. This week: African countries taking control of their health destinies, the link between climate change and food security, the building debt crisis, and more.

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Go your own way: African countries are actively applying lessons learned from the pandemic to take greater control over their health systems and bolster the continent’s health security. The African Union’s Executive Board agreed to make the Africa CDC an autonomous body, allowing it increased flexibility to better manage and coordinate emergency response measures. Meanwhile, Rwanda was chosen as the headquarters of the African Medicines Agency, with full backing from the WHO. The agency will regulate medical products for quality and safety, an important step in the continent’s quest to produce more of its own vaccines and medicines.

Vaccine heroes: The overall COVID-19 vaccination rate in the 92 lower-income countries eligible for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment mechanism has increased from 28% in January to 48% in June. 🥳 Still, progress varies greatly between countries: one example is Malawi, with only 8% vaccinated. COVAX has distributed more than 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to 146 countries. That progress has involved a lot of unsung heroes, including youth ambassadors and Safari Doctors delivering vaccines to remote Kenyan islands, community mobilisers sharing vaccine information on the streets in the DRC, and health workers reaching people in the slums of Lagos using mobile vaccination clinics. But there’s a long way to go: just 20% of Africans are fully vaccinated.

Turning up the heat: Hot summers driven by climate change are the leading weather-related cause of food price inflation (or heatflation), with low- and middle-income countries disproportionately impacted. Russia’s war in Ukraine is already devastating food supply and prices, and the food crisis looks set to worsen. In some places, the numbers of malnourished children have already hit record highs. Heatwaves are rolling across much of the world’s north, with wildfires forcing evacuations in MoroccoFrance, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Temperatures reached as high as 45°C (113°F) in Morocco, while Britain hit its highest recorded temperature of 40°C (104°F) this week. A heatwave in India earlier this year severely damaged its wheat crop, contributing to the current food crisis.

Double crisis forecast: Lower-income countries are facing the highest rise in food import costs globally. The increased cost of wheat, rice, and maize imports in those countries could equal 1% of GDP in the next year, more than double the 2021-22 increase. These same countries are already in or at high risk of debt distress. Debt to foreign creditors in the world’s poorest countries rose 75% between 2010 and 2020, reaching a record high of $124 billion. Experts are calling on rich countries to provide emergency relief (including the recycling of SDRs), refrain from food export restrictions, and support debt restructuring for countries in need. Looks like there will be much to discuss at the US-Africa Leaders Summit later this year.

Debt exchange: Some experts are worried that Nigeria’s eurobonds issuances place the country at greater risk of debt distress, especially amidst worsening exchange rates. Nigeria’s Debt Management Office says that revenue needs to drastically increase to fund the government’s current plans, but the country has the third lowest revenue-to-GDP ratio in the world, at 6.3%. The US dollar, which accounts for 90% of the world’s foreign exchange transactions, is at a 20-year high compared to other major traders. This will place further stress on heavily indebted countries, with repayments becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, as their currency depreciates.

Money movers: G20 leaders once again fell short of delivering on the commitment to recycle at least $100 billion in SDRs to countries in need. The G20 claims to have reached $73 billion in SDR commitments, but isn’t showing the math. Based on publicly available commitments, we’ve tracked $61.5 billion. World Bank President David Malpass criticised the lack of progress on assistance for countries facing debt distress. But the recently released G20 Multilateral Development Banks capital funding plan is more ambitious (and aligned with ONE’s ask). It outlines a 12-24 month timeline to deliver reforms that could mobilise “several hundreds of billions of dollars.” But the terse joint response from MDBs (including the World Bank, which…ahem, reportedly tried to block the report’s release) isn’t exactly heartening. Meanwhile, three African finance ministers are calling for the African Union to have a seat at the G20 to ensure fair representation and engagement on issues impacting the continent. Charles Michel, European Council president, is on board. And so are we.

Balancing act: Kenya has met the IMF’s requirements for a $235.6 million disbursement. The government was counting on the support after shelving initial plans to borrow $1 billion from commercial banks or a new eurobond issuance. The country is at high risk of debt distress. Kenya has shown a “commitment to prudent policies and advancing structural reforms,” according to the latest IMF review. This includes plans to shift from the current 10 trillion-shilling ($84.4 billion) debt ceiling to a GDP-tied debt ceiling.

Learning journey: African leaders have thrown their support behind Education Plus, an initiative that calls for free and quality secondary education for all children in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. The initiative could provide a needed boost to gender parity in education: 34 million adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa were not in secondary school before the pandemic. It could also help address the AIDS crisis: completing secondary education reduces girls’ risk of acquiring HIV by up to half. Currently, 4,200 adolescent girls and young women in the region are infected with HIV each week, and adolescent girls account for six in seven new cases.

From the ONE team

  • ONE activist Amy Gaman: ‘My University Was Attacked By Boko Haram Terrorists, It Changed My Life’.
  • Our data deep dive on food security shows how many people are facing food insecurity and which countries have experienced the most dramatic increases since Russia’s war. Check out the data visualisations.
  • We partnered with NowThis to share the stories of how COVID-19 has impacted people in Lagos physically, economically, and emotionally.
  • How can we fight epidemics more equitably? We asked activist Maurine Muregna for some insights.

The numbers

  • 890+ million people across 92 countries do not have enough food. Nearly 40% of them live in Africa.
  • 58% of the world’s poorest countries are at high risk of, or in, debt distress, according to the World Bank.

More reads

  • A British broadcaster did its best to bring the movie “Don’t Look Up” to life during this week’s heatwave. (The Independent)
  • Omicron WHAT? A users’ guide to COVID-19 variant names. (GAVI)
  • Many vulnerable refugees and migrants experience poorer health outcomes. (WHO)
  • Digital labour platforms subject global South workers to “algorithmic insecurity.” (The Conversation)

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