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Pandemic threatens to push millions more Africans into extreme poverty

Former domestic worker Amsale Hailemariam   -  
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AP Photo


As a domestic worker, Amsale Hailemariam had an inside view of a richer lifestyle in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. But the coronavirus has cost the single mother even that meagre living, putting that world even further out of her reach.

Her income, she says, has evaporated:

"Since the beginning of the coronavirus, there is no work.

"We are staying at home and we've stopped going out so that we don't get infected.

"We are living in a state where we are above the dead and below the living. This is not life."

Until the outbreak, her daughter, Bethlehem Jafar, was studying for a career in public health. She has been forced to put that aside for now.

Amsale says her hopes and dreams are tied up in her daughter:

"So that she doesn't follow in my footsteps and go through what I went through, I worked hard singlehandedly to see her go to school and succeed."

For some, the name Ethiopia still conjures up decades-old images of famine and destitution.

But the last quarter of a century has seen a transformation in the East African nation that stands as one of the world's economic success stories.

Gayle Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the anti-poverty organisation ONE, says that Ethiopia, like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, is heavily dependent on foreign investment. With the current COVID-related travel restrictions, that has all but come to a standstill.

She feels the country will inevitably lose ground:

"A lot of the gains of the last 25 years are going to be wiped out.

"They don't have the money they need to both respond to the pandemic, but also stop the bleeding from this sudden freeze in income in capital and revenue."

"Bilateral debt service has been suspended through the end of this year, but it's not nearly enough.

"We need to go through to 2021. We need the multilateral organisations and the private creditors to come on board."

More than 736 million people worldwide are already in extreme poverty, half of them in just five countries – Bangladesh, India and three African nations Congo, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

But because of the effects of COVID 19, the World Bank says up to 100 million more people could soon fall into extreme poverty defined as living on the equivalent of just 1 us dollar and 90 cents a day.

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