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Factsheet April 8, 2021

World Bank’s Response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Africa


More than a year into the pandemic, slower spread of the coronavirus and lower COVID-19-related mortality, decisive actions by countries to save lives and livelihoods, and a faster-than expected recovery in commodity prices have contributed to improve economic prospects of many Sub-Saharan African (SSA) economies. Yet, the pandemic continues to take a toll on African lives and has pushed up to 40 million people into extreme poverty. Women, youth, low skill labor and those in the informal sector remain most affected by lack of access to social safety nets and income opportunities.

Many countries have seized the opportunity within the crisis to move faster on key reforms and investments that will be crucial for long-term development. The road to recovery will be long and vary significantly across economies and sub-regions. As part of the global response, the World Bank Group will deploy up to $160 billion in financial support to help more than 100 countries protect poor and vulnerable people, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes up to $50 billion for African countries.

In Africa, the World Bank’s response is focused around four main areas, simultaneously: saving lives, protecting poor people, protecting and creating jobs, and building back better.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the World Bank has made available nearly $24.7 billion to respond to the COVID-19 crisis through a combination of new operations in health, social protection, economic stimulus and other sectors, as well as redeployment of existing resources.

Save lives

The World Bank has taken fast action to help African countries strengthen their pandemic response and health care systems and is now stepping up its support on vaccine purchase and deployment.

With the vaccine roll-out underway in many African countries, ensuring an adequate supply of vaccines is a priority for the region. The World Bank estimates that every month of delay costs the African continent $13.8 billion in lost gross domestic product. 

Currently, the World Bank is preparing emergency vaccine financing projects in more than 30 African countries including Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Rwanda, and Senegal - amounting to a total of $1.85 billion. These projects focus on ensuring countries have available financial resources to equitably access vaccines; conducting readiness assessments to identify gaps and take measures to make sure vaccines reach as many people as possible; reinforcing infrastructure including cold chain equipment, trained human resources, and transport; establishing data collection systems to monitor the impact of vaccination efforts; as well as supporting behavior change campaigns to address vaccine hesitancy and increase demand.

The emergency vaccine financing follows the development of COVID-19 emergency projects in 36 countries (amounting to $988 million) which focus on strengthening prevention, expanding testing and providing medical equipment such as portable ventilators, personal protective equipment and masks, as well as building healthcare facilities, and strengthening community engagement, health systems and coordination. Additional resources (about $190 million) are being leveraged through project restructuring and existing health operations.

At a regional level, the Bank is supporting regional institutions such as the Africa Center for Disease Control, West African Health Organization, and the African Union Commission to enhance cross-border collaboration on disease surveillance and response. The Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement Program supports 16 countries across SSA, enabling laboratories to expand and strengthen testing, infection prevention and control, risk communication, and cross-border coordination.

In addition, the World Bank is redeploying existing resources in the portfolio of health, urban and resilience projects including more than $337 million through the emergency components of existing projects in 16 countries and Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Operations have been triggered disbursing $135 million in the Seychelles, Kenya and Madagascar.

Protect poor people

To protect poor and vulnerable citizens and respond to the impact on their livelihoods, the Bank is helping African countries to:

  • Scale up and adapt social safety net programs: Since the start of the pandemic, more than $4.1 billion new financing has been approved for social safety net programs across the continent to address chronic poverty through cash transfers and support those who lost their livelihoods following the pandemic. By putting cash into poor people’s pockets, social protection can help sustain local economic activities especially in essential sectors like food. In Togo, Novissi, a coronavirus cash transfer program, delivers contactless, emergency cash transfers to some of the poorest families through satellite images and mobile money. Similarly, in Democratic Republic of Congo, urban poor citizens are being reached by leveraging mobile phone data and focusing on the “missing middle.” In Niger, cash transfers helped build the resilience of households to climate change through diversifying income sources, encouraging savings and preventing poor coping decisions when shocks hit. In Malawi, the government is replacing manually-operated water kiosks with automated water systems to help reduce congestion and COVID-19 risks, while reducing the cost of water at the same time.
  • Ensure food security by supporting farmers to expand agricultural production to meet the needs of local communities and by sustaining food supply chains. In addition, governments are responding to increases in food prices over the last months. In Côte d’Ivoire, 320,000 farmers received income support and 5,000 jobs were safeguarded in local processing units. In Chad, cereal banks are being set up, and seeds and food kits are being distributed to help poor families not go hungry during the crisis. In Kenya, digital technologies are being used through partnerships with 15 AgTech startups to facilitate the delivery of inputs, soil testing, crop insurance and other services. In Madagascar, a World Bank project is working with communities of agriculture producers displaced by COVID-19-related travel restrictions, on high-intensity access road rehabilitation, as well as labor intensive works to stimulate recovery in agricultural production.

Protect and create jobs

Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs), which provide the majority of jobs, have been particularly hard hit across the region where informal firms dominate employment. Public works and urban programs are being launched or scaled up to facilitate job creation in low income communities. In the Central African Republic, the largest cash-for-work program in the country supported by the World Bank has produced more than two million masks with the objective of producing 10 million to provide two free masks for every citizen, at the same time generating livelihood opportunities to 18,000 tailors and 300 local firms. Similarly, Kenya’s Informal Settlements Improvement Project has created more than 26,000 jobs by providing cash-for-work activities for youth, such as street and drainage cleaning while ensuring clean environments and improved urban infrastructure.

Putting women at the center of digital payment programs can help countries mitigate exclusion risks and minimize the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls. In Zambia, the Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood Project is helping increase access to livelihood support for extremely poor women and access to secondary education for disadvantaged girls in extremely poor households. More than 34,000 women have been supported by the program so far. In Sierra Leone, ​women-led agro-processing SMEs are receiving grants to ensure business continuity and resilience through the Sierra Leone Agro-Processing Competitiveness Project.

Support to the private sector is critical to containing the economic crisis and supporting recovery, so the World Bank Group’s private sector arm – the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – is working to help the private sector navigate the pandemic and recover from the economic and financial impact of the crisis. This includes mobilizing IFC’s global $8 billion COVID-19 fast track financing facility to support existing clients in the region affected by the outbreak to increase financing for small businesses, develop digital infrastructure, help keep agriculture supply chains running, and enable local manufacturers to access working capital. It also includes leveraging the Global Health Platform, which was launched to help developing countries fight the coronavirus pandemic by easing their access to critical healthcare supplies and increasing their healthcare systems’ resilience. Additionally, IFC is providing advisory support to clients including financial institutions to manage risk during this period, to apparel manufacturers to help them transition to produce medical personal protective equipment (PPE), and to the tourism industry to find ways to navigate this difficult period. 

Build back better

While addressing the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus on recovery remains central to the Bank’s response and support to countries. More than 20 SSA countries in have requested development policy operations or budget support from the Bank to assist them to manage the fiscal impacts of the pandemic. These operations are focusing on supporting governments to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the same time promoting reforms that will create the conditions for economic recovery. As of March 25, 2021, the World Bank has approved 31 Development Policy Operations in SSA for more than $4.4 billion provided by the International Development Association (IDA) and $1 billion provided by International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, in support for policy actions to help with the recovery process.   

Securing the future also involves maintaining critical government services and service delivery, particularly in nutrition and education, as well as building health systems and water and sanitation. Energy services are also key in fighting pandemics - from powering healthcare facilities and supplying clean water for essential hygiene, to enabling communications and information technology services that connect people while maintaining social distancing. Efforts to increase investments in solar, wind and other sustainable energy sources are underway and will be key to ensure economic recovery.

Maintaining education services is a central part of the Bank’s response. In Sierra Leone, the government was able to provide the Radio Teaching Program as a distance education alternative, reaching about 1.4 million children, including 700,000 girls, and initiated sensitization campaigns about COVID-19 spread and prevention, gender-responsive actions, and back-to-school. In Uganda, the COVID-19 response project provides transportation for teachers from their homes to radio stations and back and resources to help them prepare and deliver lessons on radio and TV.

As global trade will take time to recover, African countries need to promote the development of regional value chains while they are building the foundations and capabilities needed for more comprehensive continental involvement. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has an important role to play by reducing production costs associated to tariffs, non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation problems. The AfCFTA can also help organize production across the region, expand intra-regional trade and build resilience along supply chains.  

The World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called on official bilateral creditors to grant a debt suspension to countries eligible for IDA financing – the world’s poorest countries – to help provide a buffer in their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2020 Spring Meetings, the governors of the World Bank and IMF and the Finance Ministers of the G7 and G20 supported a May 1 start date. This is an important part of the global response to soften the impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and to ensure that governments have the resources to respond swiftly and decisively to protect lives and livelihoods. African countries paid $34.1 billion in total external debt service in 2019, of which $10.4 billion was paid to official bilateral creditors, according to the World Bank’s International Debt Statistics (IDS). As of April 1, 2021, 30 countries from SSA have requested to participate in the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).

As the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 are still unfolding across the region, having real time data to inform policy choices is critical. The Bank is scaling up its high frequency monitoring of key economic indicators and impacts on firms, households, and food prices, to assist governments to monitor and respond effectively to the crisis.

Last Updated: Apr 08, 2021