By Karin Strohecker
LONDON (Reuters) - A lack of access to vaccines is dampening economic recovery in sub-Saharan Africa and the region will lag behind developed nations for years, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.
Confirming its sub-Saharan Africa growth forecast of 3.7% for this year and 3.8% for 2022 in its regional economic outlook, the fund said rising commodity prices and favourable harvests had benefited some countries, though the overall picture was perilous.
"The outlook remains extremely uncertain, and risks are tilted to the downside," the IMF team led by Shushanik Hakobyan wrote in its report, adding much hinged on the trajectory of the pandemic and vaccinations, but disruptions in global activity and financial markets could also derail recovery.
Sub-Saharan Africa's 2021 projected growth rates mean the region already suffered the "slowest recovery in the world".
South Africa - the continent's most industrialised nation - is expected to expand by 5.0% this year before growth slows down to 2.2% in 2022. Higher oil prices will help Nigeria expand by 2.6% in 2021 with rates remaining at that level for the foreseeable future, the report predicted.
Angola's economy will contract by 0.7% in 2021, but its six year recession will end next year when it will return to 2.4% growth, though this is slower than previously expected due to falling investments and technical problems in the oil sector.
Rising food inflation is set to remain a burning issue, especially for the about 30 million people thrown into extreme poverty by the pandemic, the fund found. Food inflation had steadily increased since 2019 and stood at 10.9% in August across 25 countries where monthly data was available.
"The crisis has worsened inequality not only across income groups, but also across subnational geographic regions, which may add to the risk of social tension and political instability," the authors of the report said.
"Without external financial and technical assistance, the divergent recovery paths of sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world may harden into permanent fault lines, jeopardizing decades of hard-won progress."
(Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Giles Elgood)