Common challenges, differentiated impacts
World crises do not impact countries in the same way. This blog looks at the effects of conflict, climate change and the energy transition on African nations.
Not everyone is equally affected by ongoing world crises such as the Russia-Ukraine war and climate change. The furthest behind are often the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of national and global decisions and actions.
Common and compound challenges but differentiated impacts
The consequences of the geopolitical Russia-Ukraine crisis are felt by the poorest thousands of miles away. Hard on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic and during the worst climatic event in 40 years in the Horn of Africa, households are facing starvation with basic food items increasing by increasing by 66% in Ethiopia and 36% in Somalia in June 2022. Women and children are disproportionally affected by such crises. The Horn of Africa drought crisis has resulted in an increase in gender-based violence. Children – particularly girls – have been dropping out of school while gender-based violence is reported to have almost doubled to have almost doubled in one Kenyan refugee camp alone between 2019 and 2021.
Despite Africa having no stake nor role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, its economic impact has been devastating for the continent. According to the Africa Economic Outlook 2022, 1.8 million Africans could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2022 with this figure expected to increase to 2.1 million in 2023. The ability to recover quickly and protect vulnerable households is dependent on the strength of existing social safety net programmes whereas the typical African safety net consists of many small and fragmented programmes. The challenges faced by Africa as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, mounting public debt, and inflation are compounded by climate change and its related impacts with the continent losing 5%–15% of its gross domestic product per capita growth.
Transition to clean energy, is it a win-win?
There is a general consensus that nations need to head towards a clean-energy economy. However, the speed, scope and form of transition is highly contentious and may leave the poorest households even further behind. For example, the renewable energy transition may result in job losses in one district but rarely creates new jobs in the same area. As we head towards COP 27, just transition is the focus of climate talks.
One reform many countries are implementing is the phase-out of dirty-burning fuels such as household kerosene. In Africa, household kerosene is used for as a primary source of energy for heating, cooking and lighting. As countries move towards cutting fuel subsidies, city-dwellers – particularly those in slums – and rural communities are feeling the pinch as the price of household kerosene increases year on year. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of Nigeria, the average retail price of a litre of household kerosene in July 2022 was 98.8% higher than in the previous year. In the absence of easily accessible and affordable alternatives, the impact of rising unclean energy prices is significant. One Centre for Global Development report shows that while countries like India and Iran provide compensation to poor households in the form of cash, Nigeria has no such energy subsidy programme in place. Aside from fiscal accountability, compensating the poor requires infrastructure such as ATMs in rural communities like Iran has, or the collection of benefits using a universal ID system as in India. In countries that lack infrastructure, have a low level of civil registration and an absence of reliable, timely and relevant data, policies designed to cushion the blow of energy reform are unsuccessful even when there is political will. This brings us to the vital role of disaggregated data in leaving no one behind.
Do we even know who is left behind?
Relevant, reliable and disaggregated data (preferably real or near-real-time data) is crucial for formulating an appropriate response to any crisis. Such data helps to address the needs of people in crisis and to plan better for recovery after ascertaining which populations are being pushed back into extreme poverty or experiencing inequality, marginalisation and exclusion. More specifically, we need to disaggregate by age, sex, disability and also geography; moving beyond the urban-rural binary to where key local government plans are made. The data needs to also be collected using simple and standardised methods to identify the factors that keep people in poverty or even those that enable them to move out of extreme poverty.
This type of data will allow us to understand and track inequalities between countries, within borders and across segments of society. By also allowing us to monitor progress, granular data can help policymakers and development practitioners design and implement policies and interventions that are context specific, appropriate and effective.
However, for data to be truly meaningful, it should not only be disaggregated but also inclusive. Vulnerable people in crisis know very well what matters most and the types of support they need to recover. This means including affected communities in every step of the data-value chain, from data-collection design to actual collection, analysis and use. Ultimately, whatever the level of data obtained and however inclusive it is, its objective should be to hold decision-makers accountable.
Tied by challenges, differentiated by impacts
For a continent that plays no part in a conflict happening in Europe and has had little-to-no participation in the mass consumption of fossil fuels over the last few decades, Africa is facing the worst impacts of these challenges: high energy and food prices. With minimal coping mechanisms due to the poor state of institutions, infrastructure and social safety nets, new and recurring crises are pushing millions of Africans into extreme poverty.
In short, common challenges do not affect all equally. It is important to consider the intersectionality of crises (such as food insecurity and protracted humanitarian crisis) and vulnerabilities (such as drought and gender/disability). Timely, relevant and reliable granular data plays a vital role in defining the narrative around crisis and the approach used to address its differential impacts on a community or sections of a community.
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