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Pandemic devastates growth prospects in West African states

Burkina Faso on Thursday slashed its expectations of GDP growth for 2020 from 6.3% to 2%, in an nationwide address by President Roch Kabore.

Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou. Picture: AFP.

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso - Three countries in West Africa have given early notice that the coronavirus pandemic has devastated prospects for growth this year.

Burkina Faso on Thursday slashed its expectations of GDP growth for 2020 from 6.3% to 2%, in an nationwide address by President Roch Kabore.

On Tuesday, Ivory Coast estimated its growth rate would be halved half to 3.6%.

In Niger, Finance Minister Mamadou Diop predicted growth this year would be 4.1%, compared with an earlier forecast of 6.9%.

The country's budget deficit would widen from an expected 2.6% of GDP to 3.7%, he said.

One of the deeply poor, landlocked countries of the Sahel, Burkina Faso has registered 288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths since the disease was reported on its soil on 9 March.

Kabore announced "emergency measures in vital sectors", including an exemption from tax of medical products and equipment needed to combat the coronavirus.

He also pledged that the state will "take charge of water and electricity bills" for some inhabitants and enforce price controls for essential products, with security measures to protect stocks of key consumer goods.

The authorities have set up a recovery fund for companies in difficulty worth 100 billion CFA francs (152 million euros / $165 million), together with a solidarity fund to help workers in the informal sector, the president said.

In Niger, the government has estimated that it will take 597 billion CFA francs (910 million euros / $983 million) to support the population and the economy.

Of the total sum, 159 billion CFA francs are destined to help health services and fight the pandemic, Diop said.

By March 31, Niger health staff had registered 34 coronavirus cases, including three deaths.

Authorities are counting on "control of the spread of the disease worldwide by the end of June 2020," Diop explained.

Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou last week pledged free and cut-price food distributions "to support the most vulnerable people" and said the state would pay water and electricity bills for the needy in April and May.

Diop further promised tax exemptions for business.

Like neighbouring Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are in the grip of bloody jihadist revolt that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Ivory Coast has recorded 194 coronavirus cases.

One of the country's leading music groups, Magic System, on Friday began handing out food and coronavirus prevention kits to 5,000 poor families in the economic hub Abidjan, under an EU-funded programme.