Forum hears just 16% of Africa’s population vaccinated against Covid-19

Head of the African Development Bank tells Dublin event of looming food crisis triggered by war in Ukraine

Despite the availability of vaccines globally, just 16 per cent of the African population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, compared to over 80 per cent in developed countries, the head of the African Development Bank has said.

The health security of Africa’s 1.3 billion population cannot simply be left to the benevolence of the global community, Dr Akinwumi Adesina told the Africa-Ireland Economic Forum event in Dublin on Thursday.

To build Africa’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, he said the African Development Bank is investing $3 billion over the next 10 years. “Fortunately new projections by the World Health Organisation bring good news that Covid-19 deaths in Africa will decline by 94 per cent in 2022,” he said.

In his address Dr Adesina also highlighted Africa’s looming food crisis, noting that the region faces a shortage of about 30 million metric tons of imported food from Russia and Ukraine this year, a situation that could trigger food crises and even famine in several countries. He warned that that situation was compounded by fertiliser shortages and a trebling of fertiliser prices, which risked reducing food production in Africa by between 20-50 per cent.

Before the war African countries imported 44 per cent of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia. Most of that is now trapped in Ukraine because of Moscow’s blockade. Rising energy costs and the lingering effect of pandemic have compounded the potential shortages.

Dr Adesina said the African Development Bank recently approved a $1.5 billion (€1.4bn) emergency food production facility to help tackle the continent’s food crisis, which is aimed at helping 20 million African farmers to produce an extra 38 million metric tons of food.

While Russia’s war in Ukraine posed serious difficulties, it also presented opportunities, he said. “Africa, where several countries have found significant volumes of gas, including Mozambique, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Ghana among others, can become a new source of gas to Europe,” Dr Adesina said, calling on the EU to prioritise and support the development of gas infrastructure to link Africa and Europe.

Echoing earlier comments by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Dr Adesina highlighted the economic possibilities Africa presented for countries such as Ireland.

He said African economies have shown impressive growth over the past decade, posting six out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, with poverty levels declining, while witnessing significant growth in foreign direct investments due to rapid improvements in the ease of doing business as many countries embarked on big reforms.

Ireland’s two-way trade with Africa hit record levels last year despite the pandemic and is set to reach €5 billion by 2025. Ireland became the newest and 81st shareholder of the African Development Bank last year and has seen its embassy and agency footprint grow in Africa with new embassies in Morocco and Senegal, and a strengthened presence of State agencies – Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and IDA Ireland – across the continent.

In his address Dr Adesina also highlighted the threat climate change posed to Africa. While Africa accounts for just 4 per cent of global carbon emissions, it bears a disproportionate share of the negative effects, he said, noting the continent will lose $50 billion per year by 2050. He also noted that nine of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change were in sub-Saharan Africa, especially the small island states.

The bank estimates that Africa will need between about $1.3 trillion and $1.6 trillion between 2020-2030 to implement the continent’s climate action commitments and nationally determined contributions. That’s between $118.2 billion and $145.5 billion per year.

Earlier Mr Coveney spoke of Ireland’s deepening economic and cultural links with the continent and the potential for even closer trading ties. Africa’s rapid economic transformation had led to a new middle class across the region that is “shaping new consumer preferences”.

“The scale and pace of Africa’s economic growth is breathtaking. Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population of all continents,” he said.

Mr Coveney also highlighted Africa’s vulnerability to climate change – noting Ireland was making an additional contribution of €2 million towards the African Development Bank’s work on climate adaptation – and the importance of inclusivity, in particular female participation, in future development.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times