COVID-19-measures, daily laborers and their nutrition│Analysis by Michael Hauser

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Containing COVID-19 is indispensable. But without social safety nets, the effects on daily laborer in Africa could be disastrous.

Drive along any major road connecting an African city with the hinterland early in the morning before sunrise. Each city has its distinct character; it looks, feels and smells unique. Each comes with its own beauty at that time of the day. But there is one thing many cities have in common: Women and men queue at bus stations. They travel by foot. They ride bicycles or motorbikes towards town. Thousands of people streaming from the city boundaries, informal settlements and townships to the industrial areas, downtown and residential areas in the pre-dawn hours. Regardless of whether you are in Harare, Johannesburg or Nairobi, many of those you encounter are moving towards their workplaces – factories, restaurants, petrol stations, construction sites or someone’s home. And many of those who commute are daily laborers. In case of a total lockdown in response to COVID-19 in these cities, none of them will get to work. This would not only severely impact the laborers and their families, it would inhibit the ability of the city to function at all.

But the potential impact of a COVID-19-related shutdown on day laborers differs by country. One important factor is the ratio of farm to non-farm income. In Africa, some 58% of the employment is generated through agriculture, though this share is declining. Even so, in some parts of the continent the share of people in agriculture is still above 70% (Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Niger). On the other hand, in South Africa, for example, agriculture will generate less than 9% of employment by 2023. As a rule of thumb, the less the share of the population employed in agriculture, the higher the likelihood that people walk to work – like those you see in the early morning in cities. Many of the daily laborers work under informal employment arrangements: They are unprotected by labour laws and employment acts and without social protection, such as sick leaves, health insurance, unemployment benefits or pensions. When public water supply goes down, they must organize themselves.

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