GAMBIA DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS (GDC)
AS GAMBIAN GOVERNMENT EXTENDS LOCKDOWN: WHAT NEXT FOR THOSE GAMBIANS WHOSE LIVELIHOODS ARE BADLY AFFECTED BY ANTI-COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS
It is very evident that, the coronavirus (COVID-19) is a crisis like no other the world has faced in recent decades in terms of its potential economic and social impacts. However, we highly welcome the stringent health containment measures by the government of The Gambia. But, these measures have also brought a large share of our economic activity to a halt, leaving many very poor and vulnerable people in our society without a way to make a living. As can be seen in The Gambia, the pandemic is pushing thousands of our people into extreme poverty. The poor masses are bearing the most severe impacts of the pandemic related containment measures imposed by our government. The clear disruptions in the food supply and markets and the ability of Gambians especially the less-privileged ones to deal with potential shortages or prices hikes for food and other necessity items have become very low, and emerging data suggests that the poverty and distributional impacts of COVID-19 in the country are materializing fast, with dire consequences. One vividly sees frustration, anguish and depression written all over the faces of most Gambians. They have nothing to live on, and are being asked to stay at home. Many family bread-winners today can hardly afford D30 ‘fish money to feed their families, according to some complaints, and now, there is an effort by the government to extend the lockdown restrictions.
The measures taken to contain COVID-19 is largely affecting our people in painful ways, such as job loss, loss of remittances, higher prices, etc. Thus, as the pandemic and its containment measures push our people into poverty, the question that readily comes to mind is: Has the government of The Gambia taken adequate measures to alleviate the negative social impact of covid-19 in The Gambia?
What we witness today is that our government’s efforts to provide the needed support to Gambians are grossly inadequate with an attendant deterioration in living conditions and a deepening of poverty among our people. While the impacts are being felt by almost everyone in The Gambia presently, it is vivid that, they are being felt in deeper and longer-lasting ways by the less-privileged ones in our midst who are more vulnerable for several reasons. For instance, the poor Gambians who live in the rural areas and tend to depend more on domestic and foreign remittances from their migrants relatives, are hugely hurt by the pandemic. Even in our urban cities, the impact of the prevailing disruptions in food markets as well as the prices of food commodities is very severe especially among the urban poor.
Thus, the inadequacy of the safety nets so far provided by the government of The Gambia for our needy population will surely have lasting socio-economic consequences. As already seen, it is forcing most people to rely on coping strategies with potential long-lasting negative effects, such as the sale of their productive assets which they often use to sustain their lives. On the other hand, most of our people are reducing their spending on food as a result, which has significant consequences for their nutrition. Hence, the number of Gambians currently living under the national poverty line has increased abysmally.
In the light of this sad scenario, appropriate policies are needed on the part of the government of The Gambia to mitigate the raging poverty and distributional impacts of COVID-19 in our society. With the international donations made for the Gambian people and other sources of funds at the disposal of the government, an effective response in support of the poor and vulnerable Gambian households becomes imperative. These funds at government’s reach are sufficient enough to make some meaningful improvements in the lives of the society’s extreme poor especially in terms of food provision. With the situation of things today, most of these people can hardly afford one meal per day.
On another note, any support package provided by the government will need to quickly reach the target group. Today, we see terrible delays in the distribution of food items being announced by the government. The decision-makers need to make timely and effective responses in delivering the items to the needy households.
Lastly, with the available facilities and with the support of international development organizations, the government is expected to monitor the unfolding economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis in the country, including prices, food security, coping strategies and other outcomes closely related to the risk of falling (further) into poverty, and to effectively protect Gambians from the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, as well as to build the necessary resilience among the people.
In fact, our government should borrow a leaf from what other African governments are doing in the provision of COVID-19 palliatives to their people. Within the West African sub-region, one notices some impressive support from the various governments to help their citizens cushion the effects of COVID-19, as observable in countries such as our neighboring Senegal, where the government has ear-marked an Economic and Social Resilience Program among others. In Guinea, the government has been providing assorted direct support to the citizens since the beginning of the outbreak. Also, in Ghana that impact of the palliatives provided by the government is being largely felt by the citizens. There are lots of other instances worthy of emulation. The lockdown restrictions imposed by the government of The Gambia should be matched with adequate welfare and social security packages, so that the whole policy does not seem to be like a punishment or an imposition on the people, especially the needy and vulnerable ones in our society.
An African proverb says that, ‘’……. those who do not know how to dance should watch the dancing steps of those on the dance-floor …… ‘’
May the Almighty Allah continue to bless The Gambia and all its people at home and abroad.
Hon. Mamma Kandeh