NGOs sound alarm over pandemic-induced budget cuts in W. Africa

Oxfam and Development Finance International warned Thursday that West African governments risk creating the “worst economic crisis in decades” by slashing public spending because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The NGOs said in a report that 14 out of 16 countries in the poor region are planning budget cuts, urging them to tax the wealthiest citizens and corporations in order to make up for shortfalls.  

“Reducing public budgets on this scale will almost certainly raise inequality,” the report said, adding that cuts could compound financing problems for states already saddled with huge debts.

“The pandemic risks becoming the region’s worst economic crisis in decades, pushing millions into poverty,” it added.

Women would be hit hardest because they mostly work in the informal sector, or as unpaid carers, the report said.

According to official records, West Africa has suffered far lower Covid-19 infections than the West. But the pandemic has still had a devastating economic impact.

The region lost the equivalent of $48.7 billion in GDP last year, Oxfam and Development Finance International said.

Eleven countries are now planning budget cuts to the collective tune of $26.8 billion,according to the NGOs.

“This plan is austerity on steroids,” Oxfam’s West Africa Regional Director Assalama Dawalak Sidi said in a press release. 

In Sierra Leone, the planned cuts are equivalent to over twice the annual healthcare budget, the reductions in Ghana, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Liberia will exceed those governments’ annual education spending.

West Africa is home to some of the poorest countries in the world, with several, such as Mali or Niger, battling brutal jihadist insurgencies.