The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary, Her Excellency, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, has said the region has stepped up efforts to address the impact of COVID-19 on Member States’ health delivery systems, the business environment and to mitigate the impact on their economies and socio-economic environments.
COVID-19 has brought multiple challenges to the SADC Member States and these include unavailability of drugs and equipment, food insecurity, gender-based violence and a negative impact on the economies of Member States.
In an interview with Dr Shaka Ssali on Voice of America’s, Straight Talk Africa, recently, Dr Tax said when COVID-19 broke out at the beginning of the year, there was a feeling that it was only health-related, but this turned out not to be the case and the region moved in quickly to mitigate the impact.
SADC has conducted a study on COVID-19 and has produced a report which details the extent of the impact of the pandemic on Member States. The study recommends the way forward for the region to mitigate against the disease.
The study shows that, while the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on the health sector in terms of infections, deaths and overstretched health systems, and that, measures implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19, such as lockdowns, and travel restrictions have helped in containing its spread, these measures, and COVID-19 in general have has adverse effects on a number of socio-economic sectors.
According to the study, COVID-19 has disrupted global supply chains as well as lowering demand in global markets for a wide range of SADC’s exports and hence undermined progress made in increasing SADC intra-trade. Moreover, SADC is likely to experience delayed or reduced Foreign Direct Investment as partners from other continents redirect capital locally. The study further indicates that, while the impact of COVID-19 on governance, peace and security is yet to be fully explored, the study urges SADC Member States to prepare adequately for imminent COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 scenarios which may present serious challenges to peace and security both nationally and regionally.
The study recommends suppressing and controlling the pandemic in the absence of a vaccine and urges Member States to invest in strengthening their health systems to isolate, test, trace new cases and to treat them. Member States should also consider ways of ensuring that work resumes and continues. As such Member States need to invest in ICT infrastructure to ensure that work continues.
“It has been very clear that there are multiple challenges in terms of food security, increased GBV (gender-based violence), and on a number of economic sectors such as finance, tourism and trade, to mention just a few, indicated Dr Tax during the interview.
She further indicated that “what we have done as a region first was to quickly mobilize resources to address not only the health part of it, but also to put in place measures to address the socio-economic impacts. More significantly, and which was a major issue to address urgently, was facilitation of transportation and movement of goods and services”.
“There were a number of lockdowns and movement of goods and services was constrained, including essential goods for COVID-19. So what we did quickly was to put guidelines to enable the region to facilitate movement of essential goods, we then realized that COVID is not a temporary phenomenon, that will leave soon, the guidelines on facilitation of transport and movement of goods, were revisited to facilitate moment of goods and services overall. This has to a great extent contained the negative impacts of COVID-19 on trade, on the balance sheets of our economies,” Dr Tax said.
COVID-19 had impacted a number sectors in the 16 Member States of SADC, and this was not only confined to tourism, but the manufacturing and agriculture sectors, with food security heavily impacted on.
Recognizing the importance of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Cooperation, SADC, together with its tripartite partners, the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC), have also adopted harmonized Tripartite Guidelines on Trade and Transport Facilitation Guidelines for Safe, Efficient and Cost-Effective Movement of Goods and Services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidelines are aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 while facilitating trade and movement of goods and services across the tripartite area during the pandemic. The guidelines have been adopted as minimum uniform regulations, procedures and standards to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 and minimize disruptions in the supply chain and to facilitate movement of goods and services across COMESA, EAC, and SADC regions.
The COMESA-EAC-SADC TFTA stretches from Cape Town to Cairo, creating an integrated market with a combined population of almost 600 million people and a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about US$1 trillion. The specific objectives of the guidelines are tocomplement regional and national measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked on the impacts of COVID-19 on food security in the region, and measures put in place, Dr Tax said COVID-19 was not the only issue affecting food security in the SADC region, but also the impacts of climate change, which has affected with regional economies. A number of adaptations and mitigatory measures had been put in place to deal with effects of climate change.
She also indicated that a number of interventions had also been put in place in the financial sector and the region had reached out to its international cooperating partners to soften the arrangements so as to mitigate and cushion the consequences of COVID-19.