Frontline Stories

Stepping up to the COVID-19-induced Hunger Crisis


by Judy Ho (Livelihoods Technical Advisor, World Vision International)

COVID-19 is evolving from a health crisis to becoming a food crisis for the poorest communities as the pandemic roils economies around the world. It is anticipated that the secondary impacts of global food insecurity and decimating livelihoods will threaten more lives than the disease itself.

“Our greatest fear is that COVID-19 could run rampant through some of the poorest, most fragile and dangerous parts of the world, devastating the most vulnerable children’s lives in its wake,” states Andrew Morley, World Vision International President & CEO.

At the start of the pandemic, Hong Kong had a glimpse of how it feels like when basic food items like rice and oil were out of reach with shoppers lining up to get into supermarkets only to find rows of empty shelves. This experience of temporary food shortage, at the very least, could enable us to empathise with those living regularly without enough or nutritious food in impoverished countries that are now facing this new hunger crisis.

Increased food insecurity

Food insecurity occurs when people cannot obtain sufficient amounts of healthy food, and as a result suffer from hunger and poor nutrition. Even prior to the pandemic, many places were seeing a rise of hunger and food insecurity. In Yemen, millions have gone into starvation due to ongoing civil war. In East Africa, farmers are devastated as the desert locusts wipe out hectares of crops and farmland, aggravating the situation against the backdrop of extreme weather events.

The 2020 Global Report on Food Crises reveals that in 2019, the world had 135 million people that were experiencing extreme hunger and food shortages, which was approximately 18 times the population of Hong Kong. The forecast for food security in 2020 is even more alarming. The UN has predicted that the forthcoming global hunger crisis will bring 265 million people into a dire situation of becoming acutely food insecure.

Inaccessible and decreased food supply

Since the World Health Organisation confirmed the virus as a pandemic, in just two short months, COVID -19 has disrupted the global supply chain, hammering food supplies and its availability, which has further inhibited people’s ability to access food.

The unforeseen movement restrictions intended to stop the spread of the virus have impaired agricultural production and logistic, dampening the availability and supply of most basic food items in many places. Without the labourers, many farm owners have been left with no choice, but to leave their harvests to rot in the field. These disruptions have lessened domestic supply to meet the demands, while pressure on global food markets is spiking up food prices, making food even more unaffordable for the poor. In Thailand, rice prices hit a seven-year high, jumped from US$500 (approx. HK$3,900) per tonne at the end of March to an average of US$570 (approx. HK$4,450) per tonne by April.

The abrupt economic lockdowns have affected millions, especially the daily earners who have been living hand-to-mouth. Families are losing their income sources and can no longer rely on remittances to sustain their living, owing to the widespread fall in wages and unemployment of migrant workers. As vulnerable households suffer from lower purchasing power, many have resorted to reducing the number of meals consumed each day to cope with food shortages.

How World Vision is responding

World Vision is currently responding to the devastating impact of COVID-19 in more than 70 countries. It focuses on supporting households towards building resilience and local livelihood recovery. As governments and international actors collaborate to provide food aid, communities and local stakeholders can offer insights for longer-term solutions. For examples in Albania, viable economic opportunities arise amidst travel restrictions. World Vision worked with local authorities to support farmers with hazelnut seedlings when isolations made it impossible for farmers to acquire farm inputs such as equipment, seeds and fertilisers.

Practical Solutions

With the global food crisis exacerbating at an alarming speed, this moment urges us to listen to the local grassroots staff, farmer groups and families so that together, we can come up with sustainable ways to provide food and livelihood opportunities. This is a time that calls for innovations in our community-based interventions such as the following:
  • Digitalising saving groups,
  • Troubleshooting farming issues remotely,
  • Sharing the latest market information with mobile technology,
  • Preserving produce so that the harvest will not go to waste, and
  • Promoting micronutrients-rich kitchen gardens for household consumption, amongst many others.
World Vision is calling on governments worldwide to ensure continuity of the supply chain for essential commodities and services to preserve lives and productive and livelihoods assets of the most vulnerable. Donors, including the UN and international non-government organisations (INGOs), should be immediately channeling financial and technical support towards livelihood programmes aimed at protecting livelihoods assets for the most vulnerable communities. Private sectors could also join in this global effort by complementing government social protection services. One example would be for mobile network operators to waive transaction costs for mobile money to increase the uptake of mobile money by saving group members.

Reaching a hunger-free world by 2030 seems like an immense challenge now. Perhaps, with concerted efforts, humanity could make a difference in the coming decade. As 15-year old Jose from Peru accurately puts it, at unprecedented times like this, “solidarity will be very much important to support each other.”

Published on 8 Jul 2020

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