BusinessDay
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Nigerians finding it hard to cope with COVID-19

The battle against COVID-19 is unlikely to end soon. Nigeria’s economic agents are languishing as the effects of the novel coronavirus disrupts their lives and livelihoods. Noted for their resilience; the fight to survive isn’t new to Nigerians.  Yet,  trying to make sense of opportunities presented in times like this, households have to contend with a steep rise in the price of goods and services, and dwindling income For those who still have a job expenses have increased but incomes have decreased.

In response they have had to devise measures that will enable them to cope on their own expecting little or no support from the government.

Pre-COVID, government policies and actions failed to promote sustainable economic growth but bred economic hardship . Nigerians adapted and survived. Now, most Nigerians are worse off .

According to the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (COVID NLPS), 51 percent of households have had to reduce food consumption due to hike in food prices. Also, some 29 percent have had to draw down their savings in response to COVID-19 induced economic shocks.

Increase in food prices makes high quality food scarce for poorer households, forcing them to resort to cheaper or less nutritious foods, hence they are underfed. This increases the possibility of more malnourished children, reduces calories required during a non-active period as an energy-conserving mechanism and may also reduce insulin sensitivity in adults. Low insulin sensitivity could result in chronically high blood sugar levels, which increases an individual’s risk of many diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

Similarly, drawing down on savings with no corresponding increase in income level amid lower purchasing power as inflationary pressure mounts. This means more households will get poorer and will further worsen Nigeria’s current status as the world’s poverty capital.

Beyond reduced consumption and depleting savings, households have had to reduce non-food consumption, sell harvest in advance, incur debts, purchase items on credit, engage in additional income-generating activities and sell assets among others. These actions can reduce households’ value, degrade health and negatively impact the economy.

Across countries faced with COVID-19 related challenges, the livelihoods of citizens remains a major goal, it is driving policies and actions. We have seen relief in different forms rolled out to meet the basic needs of people to ameliorate the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, measures the Nigerian federal government and states to ease sufferings have lacked transparency, effectiveness, orderliness, and innovation. It has been nothing short of bedlam.

Instead Nigerians have been left to cope with salary cuts, job losses, dwindling savings, poor healthcare etc. Still the economic outlook remains bleak and households will have to cope much longer than anticipated.

In line with the World Bank’s recommendations to African policymakers, we urge the Nigerian federal government to focus on saving lives and protecting livelihoods. To achieve this, Nigerian health systems must be strengthened and quick actions to minimise disruptions in food supply chains must be prioritised.

Social protection programs, including cash transfers, food distribution and fee waivers, to support citizens, especially those working in the informal sector must be implemented.

According to Albert Zeufack, Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank, “it is important to ensure that fiscal policy builds in space for social protection interventions, especially targeting workers in the informal sector, and sows the seed for future resilience of our economies.”

Nigerians are hungry, broke and unemployed. Inflation is eroding the little they have left. While the World Bank has pledged to call for a standstill on official bilateral debt service payments which would free up funds for sub-saharan African countries, the Nigerian federal government must ensure it deploys such funds to ease the suffering of Nigerians.

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