Speaking in Dakar, the capital of the West African country, Senegal, on his first visit to the continent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Guterres said, “when discussing the socio-economic situation, it is impossible not to mention the war in Ukraine and its impact on Africa.”
The UN chief made the remarks after meeting the country’s President Macky Sall, who said that the war in Ukraine was “a human tragedy” which can have “a dramatic impact on economies, in particular, those of developing countries.”
The conflict in Ukraine is driving up global food and fuel prices; senior UN officials are concerned that rising costs will push more people into hunger and could lead to political instability and social unrest in some parts of Africa, where food prices have increased by a third since last year.
Before the Russian invasion began in February, the combination of climate change, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic, was already impacting the socio-economic situation in Africa, especially in the Sahel region which includes Senegal.
Vaccine equity and sovereignty
Earlier Mr. Guterres and President Sall had toured a new hi-tech vaccine production facility, currently being built by the Institut Pasteur in Dakar. When completed, it will be able to produce a range of vaccines including Pfizer-BioNTech, one of the most widely used immunizations against COVID-19. It will also be able to manufacture experimental vaccines against malaria and tuberculosis.
Speaking at the end of World Immunization Week, Mr. Guterres said that it was necessary to “build true vaccine equity across the world,” and that it was “unacceptable” that close to 80 per cent of Africans are not vaccinated against COVID-19; a situation which he called a “moral failure.”
President Macky Sall has called for pharmaceutical sovereignty by supporting the emergence of an African pharmaceutical industry capable of meeting basic needs and coping with pandemics.
As part of the COVID-19 recovery plan, Senegal is strengthening its drugs manufacturing sector. It’s expected that the vaccination facility will produce at least 50 per cent of the country’s needs.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Mr. Guterres added that the world’s “wealthiest countries and pharmaceutical companies should accelerate the donation of vaccines and invest in local production,” of the type seen at Institut Pasteur facility.
— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) May 1, 2022
Global crisis response
Increased investment is part of a global strategy to support developing countries facing what the UN has called “cascading crises.” In March 2022, the UN Chief established the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance (GCRG) set up in response to the crisis provoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that the invasion was producing alarming effects on a world economy already battered by COVID-19 and climate change.
President Macky Sall is one of six eminent world leaders who have been named as Champions of the group and who are supporting the Secretary-General’s call for immediate action to prevent, mitigate and respond to the crisis. He is also the Chairperson of the African Union for 2022.
The GCRG, calls on countries to find creative ways to finance increased humanitarian and development recovery needs worldwide and to give generously and immediately release funds that they have already pledged.
Food, energy and finance
Talking to reporters in Dakar, Mr Guterres said “we must ensure a steady flow of food and energy in open markets, removing all unnecessary export restrictions,” adding that “countries must resist the temptation to hoard and instead release strategic stocks of energy.”
The UN estimates that a quarter of a billion people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year, caused by the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. International financial institutions have a key role to play and “must urgently provide debt relief by increasing liquidity and fiscal space,” the UN Chief said, “so that governments can avoid default and invest in social safety nets and sustainable development for their people.”