The COVID-19 pandemic poses clear threats to Ethiopia's reforms and relatively strong economic growth, with "wide-ranging and serious" impacts across Africa's second most populous country, a new UN assessment (PDF) finds.
Infrastructure investments, poverty reduction, and a significant political opening gave Ethiopia advantages at the outset of the pandemic--with plans in place for the country's first democratic elections in August 2020, which are now postponed. But slowing economic growth, rising debt risks, high inflation, high unemployment, large numbers of displaced people, and a sorely underfunded health system threaten to reverse years of progress, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable among Ethiopia's 105 million people, the study says.
"Social unrest, triggered by longstanding issues that could now be aired in a more open civic and political environment, had led to conflict, the loss of lives and property and, at last count, 1.7 million internally displaced persons," the assessment, which will inform policies and programs aimed at helping Ethiopia recover, finds. The country also comprises 26 refugee camps and tens of thousands of Eritreans refugees, whose densely populated living conditions make containing COVID-19 even more difficult.
Even before the pandemic struck, Ethiopia was struggling with a large-scale desert locust invasion affecting close to 1 million people, scant rant disrupting the agricultural sector, high levels of food insecurity, and outbreaks of cholera, measles, and yellow fever--straining a health service whose readiness to deliver routine health services was rated in 2018 at just 55 percent of what's needed. Traditional practices and limited public awareness, compounded by poverty, could further worsen the trajectory of the pandemic significantly.
"The socio-economic impacts being felt across Ethiopia already are wide-ranging and serious, with the potential to become severe, depending on the combination of the pandemic's trajectory, the effects of counter-measures and underlying and structural factors," the report says.
Recommended policies must prioritize response, focusing on the obvious and immediate imperative of saving lives and livelihoods over a likely period of three to six months, and recovery, taking advantage of large-scale policy measures to tackle systemic risks and development shortfalls over a likely period of 12-18 months from the initial outbreak.
The study says both response and recovery will have a higher likelihood of success if they:
- Promote measures that put people at the center, protecting them and their rights while also conserving vital economic and financial assets and systems;
- Recognize and target sectors and groups that are most severely impacted;
- Avoid turning temporary measures into permanent "giveaways" unless designed as incentives connected to longer-term development goals;
- Seize the opportunity to boost longer-term goals that foster a fairer and more resilient, productive, greener and sustainable future for Ethiopia.