The Covid-19 pandemic broke out at the end of 2019, affecting the whole world. It was projected to have a particularly negative impact on poor and vulnerable households in Uganda. This effect has occurred, with around 1.8 million people, mostly in urban areas, plunged into poverty and vulnerability.
Since the outbreak, the government has imposed closures to prevent the spread of the virus. While the lockdown measures were needed to stop the spread of the virus, which is a public health emergency, they have had unforeseen repercussions on the many people whose livelihoods have been disrupted.
The first lockdown resulted in the temporary closure of businesses, impacting millions of Ugandans who depend on them for their jobs. According to the UNDP, the pandemic would directly affect the livelihoods of more than 60% of people employed in industry and services, with nearly 90% of people living in urban areas depending on these two sectors.
The Center for Economic Policy Research (EPRC) also revealed that the Covid-19 containment measures have resulted in increased operating costs for nine out of 10 small and medium-sized businesses, leaving them unable to cope. The EPRC predicted that 3.8 million people would lose their jobs temporarily, of which 625,957 would lose their jobs permanently.
In addition, the pandemic has serious implications for food security. According to a survey conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the month of April, food prices increased by up to 4.8%, especially for basic necessities. Corn prices, in particular, fell from 32.2% in March 2019 to 37.0% in April 2020.
Gender disparities have widened as a result of the pandemic. To support their families, women and children are increasingly forced into dangerous and abusive jobs. On Saturday, a local television broadcast a documentary about girls in Kasese district who traded sex in exchange for sanitary napkins.
Uganda has a long history of providing social assistance to the poor through the Senior Citizen Grant, an unconditional cash transfer that is available to anyone aged 80 and over. When the Covid-19 pandemic became a national concern, President Museveni had just launched on March 8, 2020 a national deployment of the SCG in all districts of the country.
As the country grapples with the second wave, the government, through the prime minister’s office, has said it will offer a program to help the vulnerable poor through mobile money. It is commendable. However, this raises a number of questions about the feasibility of the program, the selection criteria and whether or not it will be implemented, given the poor management of the distribution of posho and beans during the first wave.
The consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic will last a long time. Vaccination efforts have started, giving everyone new optimism. Medium- and long-term actions to tackle rising poverty levels and greater vulnerability will be essential to ensure that we can recover from the crisis faster.
Ivan Mungungeyo, [email protected]