The global recession will increase infant and child deaths and cause more students to drop out of school in Africa, the U.N. children's agency predicted Monday, as the financial crisis delivers a delayed blow to the continent and is expected to linger longer.
Droughts in Africa and the 1990s Asian financial crisis have showed that the poor cope with drops in income by cutting back on food and medical treatment and withdrawing their children from school to avoid spending money on tuition and supplies, said Anthony Hodges, UNICEF's social policy adviser for west and central Africa.
While figures are hard to pin down, a 1 percentage point drop in a country's GDP has been linked to a 1 percent increase in infant deaths, said Mohammad Farooq, a UNICEF official from the impoverished southern African kingdom of Lesotho.
Of every 1,000 African babies, 89 die in their first year compared to 5 in industrialized countries and 22 in Latin America, according to the latest UNICEF figures.
Hodges told a Johannesburg press conference that some of the African countries expected to be hardest hit by the economic downturn, such as Congo, Liberia and Nigeria, have some of the highest infant mortality rates.
"These are countries in which the shock is particularly high, and the vulnerability of children is particularly high," he said.
Following several years of GDP growth of around 6 percent in Africa, overall growth for 2009 is expected to drop to around 2.8 percent, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the African Development Bank said in a report.
UNICEF urged the developed world not to use the meltdown as an excuse to cut aid to Africa and encouraged Africans to do more for themselves, praising countries that were continuing or even expanding social spending.
Africa was at first thought to be isolated from the banking and market crises that sparked the downturn in the West but declining demand for African commodities resulted in job losses at home and Africans working abroad have also lost jobs, causing a drop in remittances.