1250 GMT May 06, 2021
2020 will forever be written in history books as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. What began as a mysterious virus in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, quickly spread across the entire globe, leaving no continent, country, or community untouched, creating economical and humanitarian damage on a historic scale.
“Conflicts, climate change and COVID-19 have created the greatest humanitarian challenge since the Second World War”, said António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general a few weeks ago. “Together, we must mobilize resources and stand in solidarity with people in their darkest hour of need.”
And there will be, in fact, many in need. The World Bank expects that by the end of 2021, real GDP per capita in sub-Saharan Africa will likely regress to the same level as 2007. The outcomes of the financial crisis are already visible with Extreme Poverty (EP) on the rise for the first time in 23 years. Up to 150 million people could enter the EP statistics by the end of 2021, with the largest increases projected in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Technology to the rescue
Rising humanitarian-aid costs, set to reach $35 billion dollars in 2021. The funds will be crucial for hundreds of millions in need of life-saving support that includes food, shelter, medical assistance and more; and while humanitarian aid is crucial, investment in life-enabling technologies is a key factor in establishing an infrastructure that would enable a brighter future, a decrease in poverty, better health care, education, and much more.
Technology as a long-term solution has the potential to reshape entire industries, and create durable change across countries and continents. And while technology today holds the potential for meaningful effects on hundreds of millions in need in (almost) every sector, some fields present today tremendous opportunities for change and impact, that can be reached with smart investment and advanced technologies.
The subject on everybody’s mind due to the pandemic is health care. And while vast financial aid could fix short-term problems and save millions of lives, technology advancements are crucial for the long run. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the lowest number of doctors per capita with only 0.234 for every 1000 people (less then 1/6 the world’s average). Health centers across the region lack the most basic infrastructure including electricity and running water. Investing in medical technologies should include the use of solar power as a catalizator for infrastructure solutions alongside solar-based medical equipment. By establishing proper infrastructure, 98,745 health centers that are currently serving over 600 million people would be able to provide appropriate care and millions of lives would be saved.
Across Africa around 250 million children have been out of school since lockdowns began in the early months of 2020. A UNICEF report from August alerts that the poorest populations, and children from rural areas of the sub-Saharan region are by far the most likely to suffer education loss, due to lack of access to remote learning. And missing school has vast effects other than education being lost. Girls, who are expected to take on household chores are very likely to stay at home even once school is back, further widening the gender gap, violence rates against children have increased, and nutrition rates are down with millions of children missing school meals.
Connectivity is the first step in establishing advanced infrastructure for remote education, and could be reached through satellite-based solutions that are affordable and perfect for inaccessible locations. solar-based solutions are the next step, with TV’s and tablets that are chargeable by solar performing as the education tools for remote learning. These solutions are essential during lockdowns, but are also the basis for larger involvement and engagement of children in the learning experience.
Hunger is on the rise, and the number of acutely food-insecure people could reach 270 million by 2021. Movement restrictions coincided with planting periods for most of the staple crops in the SSA region, leading to food security challenges exacerbating even further in the coming months.
Solar solutions are the most affordable way to address food insecurity across community and national levels. With only six percent of agriculture lands properly irrigated, most farmers across Africa rely on rainwater or manual irrigation systems, and millions of acres are not reaching their full crop potential. Solar irrigation is a prominent solution, and affordable financing models are paving the way for local small-farm owners to irrigate their crops, and reach as much as 3 times more yields. Smallholder farms constitute 80% of all farms in SSA, employing about 175 million people directly and contributing as much as 90% of the food in the region. Imagine the change that 3 times the crops could establish.
COVID-19 is still here, and its effects are projected to continue disrupting billions of lives for years, and even decades, to come. As the situation escalates and added effects unfold, so rises the need for contribution, resources, and efforts to help those in need. While short-term solutions are undoubtedly a must and will save millions of lives, long-term, technology-based solutions are the ones that will reshape infrastructures, enable durable change, and could lead Africa and the entire world to a better, more sustainable future.
Yariv Cohen is an impact investor and executive, focusing on value-added businesses and technologies targeted at the developing world. This article was first published in the Rwandan newspaper The New Times.