Millions face hunger as African cities impose coronavirus lockdowns

Shehu Isah Daiyanu Dumus has run out of cash and says he only has a few handfuls of cassava flour left to eat. The 53-year-old paraplegic man usually sells phone cards. But an extended lockdown to fight the new coronavirus in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, has left him stranded.

The Lagos state government sent him a text after the lockdown began on March 30 saying he would receive a food parcel. But no food came, and with government offices closed, he had no idea when or how he would get any.

“I am sure that if this coronavirus did not kill people with disability, definitely this order of stay at home will kill people,” he told Reuters outside a building near the airport where a friend is letting him stay.

Hunger and anger are building in Lagos and other major African cities with little or no social safety net to protect the poor from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Food Programme says at least 20% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are already undernourished – the highest percentage in the world.

The combination of widespread poverty, reliance on imported food and price spikes due to the epidemic could prove deadly if African governments don’t act quickly, it says.

Under new restrictions in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, millions who once lived on daily wages are running out of food.

Many work as traders, labourers or craftsmen in the informal sector, which accounts for 85% of employment across the continent, and must now stay home with no savings as a buffer.

“A WAR ZONE”

In Lagos, three out of seven of its 20 million residents can’t always get enough food under normal circumstances, according to the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, a nonprofit. The 14-day lockdown, extended by another two weeks on Monday, has thrown millions more into need.

Food prices spiked as residents raced to stock up. Imported rice rose 11% and the price of garri, a staple made from cassava, nearly doubled, said Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence.

Michael Sunbola, the food bank’s president, said his organization was getting 50% more calls than usual from frantic residents. Some trek for five hours to collect food.

As his team unloaded rice, beans, oil and cassava flour this month in Agboyi Ketu, he said many would struggle as the shutdown continues.