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A Somali woman and children carry water at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Dollow, Somalia on Sept. 20.Jerome Delay/The Associated Press

Africa is losing the battle against poverty and hunger as its economic growth is hobbled by the combined effects of soaring inflation, the Ukraine war, high debts and climate change, the World Bank says.

The bank reported on Tuesday that it is downgrading its forecast for African growth to 3.3 per cent this year, compared with 4.1 per cent last year. The latest projection is a downward revision of 0.3 percentage points since its last forecast in April.

“If you factor in population growth, it basically means less than 1-per-cent growth per person, and that’s hardly good enough for poverty reduction,” Andrew Dabalen, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, said in an online discussion of the report.

“Food security is a major, major problem at the moment because of the war in Ukraine, because of food and fuel prices,” he said. “There are 20 million additional people who are acutely food insecure just this year alone.”

In its biannual report on sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank warned that hunger has “sharply increased” in recent years because of economic shocks, extreme weather, and violence and conflict. An estimated 140 million people in the region are suffering from acute lack of food, compared with 120 million last year.

One of the hardest-hit regions is the Horn of Africa, gripped by extreme drought after the failure of four consecutive rainy seasons. Famine is expected to be officially declared in some regions of Somalia this year.

More than 20 million at risk as famine emerges in Horn of Africa

“I’ve seen malnourished children on the verge of death,” Somalia’s special drought envoy, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

“I’ve seen them dying in the hospitals,” he said. “I’ve seen a woman of 80 years old who walked 250 kilometres to get food. She was weak and absolutely emaciated and malnourished. It’s a very dire situation.”

Mr. Warsame travelled to Canada and the United States last week to appeal for humanitarian aid from both governments and the large Somali diaspora in both countries.

He estimated that three million livestock in Somalia have died as a result of the drought, leaving farmers dependent on food markets where prices are soaring as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The war’s impact on grain and fertilizer prices has been “catastrophic,” he said.

In a new report, the United Nations estimated that 7.8 million of Somalia’s 17 million people have been affected by the drought – three times more than the number affected last November – and 1.8 million children are likely to face acute malnutrition this year and next year. The crisis could be as deadly as an earlier famine in 2011 that killed about 250,000 people, it said.

“The crushing effects of increasingly frequent droughts and other climate shocks have placed Somalia on the front line of the global climate emergency,” the UN humanitarian office said in the report.

Of the 33 African countries where data was available, 29 had inflation rates above 5 per cent in July, and 17 countries had double-digit inflation, the World Bank said in its report on Tuesday.

Rising inflation is hurting the poorest Africans and damaging the poverty-reduction campaigns that were already set back by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Dabalen said.

The impact of inflation is “incredibly tough right now on the lives of Africans,” he said.

“If inflation is left unchecked and runs rampant, it’s one of the fastest and surest ways of increasing the ranks of the poor. Inflation is bad for everyone but it’s particularly bad for poor people, because a lot of them spend close to 50 per cent of their budgets on food, and food inflation now is pretty high.”

At the same time, many African governments have fewer resources to tackle hunger and poverty because their debt costs are soaring, the World Bank said.

Evolution of risk of external debt distress among

sub-Saharan Africa low-income countries

Per cent of countries

Low

Moderate

High

In debt distress

100%

90

80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Note: The data cover joint World Bank–International Monetary Fund

debt sustainability analyses for low-income countries in Sub-Saharan

Africa. The number of countries varies by year.

the globe and mail, source: world bank group,

est. june, 2022

Evolution of risk of external debt distress among

sub-Saharan Africa low-income countries

Per cent of countries

Low

Moderate

High

In debt distress

100%

90

80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Note: The data cover joint World Bank–International Monetary Fund

debt sustainability analyses for low-income countries in Sub-Saharan

Africa. The number of countries varies by year.

the globe and mail, source: world bank group,

est. june, 2022

Evolution of risk of external debt distress among sub-Saharan Africa low-income countries

Per cent of countries

Low

Moderate

High

In debt distress

100%

90

80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10

0

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Note: The data cover joint World Bank–International Monetary Fund debt sustainability analyses for low-income countries

in Sub-Saharan Africa. The number of countries varies by year.

the globe and mail, source: world bank group, est. june, 2022

African governments spent 16.5 per cent of their revenues on external debt servicing last year, a dramatic increase from less than 5 per cent in 2010, it said.

Eight African countries are in debt distress, and 14 are at high risk of falling into the same category. In the region as a whole, debt is projected to be nearly 59 per cent of GDP this year.

“High commercial borrowing costs make it difficult for countries to borrow on national and international markets, while tightening global financial conditions are weakening currencies and increasing African countries’ external borrowing costs,” the World Bank said.

It also found that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had helped to trigger a rise in inequality in Africa as a result of increasing food and fuel prices at a time of worsening poverty rates. “The gap between rich and poor has widened further with the war in Ukraine as commodity prices jumped and reinforced the lingering adverse effects of the pandemic,” it said.

The report also cited the impact of climate change, including droughts and floods. In eastern and southern Africa, severe food crises are now occurring every 2½ years on average, compared with just once a decade before the turn of the century.

“Maintaining long-term per-capita production growth is becoming increasingly difficult with more frequent weather-induced setbacks,” it said.