“Seven Years of Famine” – The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity
On the 20th of April, the Global Report on Food Crises 2020 was released by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) and its 16 partner organizations. This year, 71 countries are included in the report. The criteria were to have at least 1 million or 20% of the population forcibly displaced or in conflict, suffering from economic shocks or weather damages.
Why are these the criteria?
Often food insecurity fuels displacement and this is true the way around. With two of the components – displacement and food scarcity – that can increase the likelihood of armed conflict, the major refugee-hosting countries should keep in mind the importance of this factor.
Based on the FAO, “food insecurity means more than hunger”. According to UNHCR data in 2019, globally every third child was malnourished. This year’s GRFC report had the highest number of people concerned since the report launched. This means 135 million people in 55 countries being in the “crisis or worse” category, which means serious, critical, or extremely critical undernourishment.
It is up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to tackle food insecurity and malnourishment. From 2015, the number of malnourished people is on the rise again, as the FAO was able to present remarkable results between 2005 and 2015. Last year, the ten countries hit by the worst food crisis were Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Sudan, (Northern part of) Nigeria and Haiti. Acute food insecurity mostly occurs in African countries and the MENA region. But Southern-American countries and islands are also on the list, as it is the case of the only European country, Ukraine.
But 2020’s bad results are in a direct correlation with the COVID-19 pandemic. These areas mentioned above posed a danger to food security before the spread of the virus, Syria’s and Yemen’s population are fighting their wars, while Eastern-African countries were hit by the worst locust swarms for decades. These factors put tens of millions of people at risk before the virus had arrived. “They did not need COVID-19. Even without it, their lives were hanging by a thread. They literally depend on us for their lives. If we cannot get to them for any reason they end up paying the ultimate price. We need to prioritize the people and make sure we’re there. Because if it’s not us, it’s no one else.”-said a chief economist of World Food Programme, Arif Husein.
A Concern for the Future
Husein also expressed his fears that with the interruption of the international trade system, humanitarian aid is becoming less possible as long as the commercial trade system is not working. The intermittence of air traffic could cause a lack of foreign aid disbursements, which are vital for people who lost their livelihood. As a result of the pandemic, crowds will become unemployed, or experiencing a significant income loss. The poor will feel first the effects of a possible economic recession. This could lead to the limitation of foreign aid.
David Beaney, director of the WFP, warned the UN Security Council to act fast and wisely. Otherwise, local governments won’t have adequate equipment, money, and time to do so. Beaney frequently quoted frightening words. He characterized the state as a “humanitarian and food catastrophe” and urged the international community to acknowledge the situation because if they don’t, the world will face “famines of biblical proportions”.
Fan Shenggen, former director of the International Food Policy Research Institute suggested the following measures. The most important thing is for food supply chains to work continuously. Having a resilient food system is also vital in the case of other viruses. Shenggen warned governments and international organizations not to use the current virus as an excuse to create trade protectionist policies.
Beamey expressed his hopes at the end of his speech: “I do believe that with our expertise and partnerships, we can bring together the teams and the programs necessary to make certain that the Covid-19 pandemic does not become a humanitarian and food crisis catastrophe.”
The author of this article is Aniko Soltesz, International Security and Safety Policy Undergraduate student and member of the International Diplomatic Student Association (IDSA).
You can find some of her previous articles here.