Tag Archives: malnutrition

COVID Creates Hunger Crisis in India

As the COVD-19 tsunami began its global spread, it exacerbated crises that were already taking a toll of vulnerable populations across the world.

In India the pandemic triggered a domestic migrant worker disaster. In Yemen it threatened a death toll far worse than the one inflicted by civil war.  And in Central America, where farming was destroyed by years of extreme climate events, the pandemic wrecked food security for 1.7 million people, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)

“COVID is making the poorest of the world poorer and the hungriest hungrier,” said Steve Taravella, a senior spokesperson for the WFP, at an ethnic media press briefing on February 26 to discuss the fallout from the pandemic. Advocates warned that a coronavirus-induced global famine loomed for millions.

“270 million people marching towards the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever,”  WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council last year. “Famine is literally on the horizon.”

The pandemic has inflicted its heaviest toll on poorer communities in the developing world, exposing the inequities driven by poverty and economic inequality that plague marginalized populations.

In India nearly 1 in 3 people face moderate or severe food insecurity, said Parul Sachdeva, India Country Representative for Give2Asia, a non-profit that supports charities in the Asia Pacific. India has the distinction of being the country with the largest number of food insecure people, and accounts for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity. When the pandemic hit, people were already struggling with poverty and socio-economic crises that gave them less food to eat. The lockdown that followed disrupted both the harvest and the food supply chain. More than a hundred million people and their incomes were affected by the inability to harvest crops in time.

When India enforced a shutdown to stop the coronavirus spread, it forced tens of thousands of migrant workers to make the long trek back to their villages after they lost jobs and wages. Without ration cards or money to buy food, the disruption to food chains put thousands at risk of hunger, leaving them to rely on NGOs and charitable civic organizations like Akshaya Patra, rather than the government, to provide food aid.

In a double whammy, the pandemic lockdown that increased food insecurity also fueled gender-based violence (GBV).

During lockdown, reported cases of gender-based violence more than doubled during the pandemic, said Aradhana Srivastava, of WFP’s India office. “The extent of suffering is actually much larger than what is being seen.” Research shows that domestic violence closely correlates with income levels, said Srivastava, and GBV is higher among lower-income households and food-insecure families. Increased food insecurity causes mental stress in households and triggers domestic violence towards women. “The increased incidence of domestic violence is linked to loss of livelihoods, loss of access to food — so there is a direct bearing.”

Since 2014, prolonged drought and excessive hurricanes in Central America have destroyed staple crops. But severe climate events and poverty – the key causes of food insecurity – have worsened with the pandemic. “The face of hunger In Central America has changed,” stated Elio Rujano, a Communications Officer for the World Food program. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, food insecurity has now spread from rural communities into urban areas. COVID lockdowns have taken away income from daily wage earners – 50% of the economy depends on informal labor – which has made it harder for people to meet basic needs like food.

Six years of conflict inYemen has ripped apart the country’s infrastructure and fragile heath system, displacing almost 4 million of its 30 million inhabitants. Conflict has become the main driver of hunger, as food prices skyrocket, and frontlines move. With COVID and the ensuing lockdown, the hunger situation hit new peak in Yemen. WFP forecasts a severe risk of famine and acute malnutrition in 2021 for 2 million children aged 1 to 5, which will have severe long term impact felt by “generations to come.” But famine has not been declared in Yemen even though “people are dying of hunger,” said Annabel Symington – Head of Communications for the WFP in Yemen, calling for funds to mount programs and interventions. “The time to act is now.”

The WFP feeds 100 million in 88 countries every year divided between 3 initiatives:1.Natural disasters, typhoon, cyclones, 2. Conflicts, and 3. Ongoing non-emergency aid such as school meals, pregnant women new mother nutrition, community help, and small farmers. In 2020, WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger.

“We provide basics for sustainability till long term solutions can be developed,” said Taravella.  For years the WFP “chipped away” effectively at hunger rates. But conflict, climate and COVID-19 are causing  humanitarian crises of catastrophic proportions, making it impossible for people to access food. Before COVID-19 there were about 135 million hungry people in the world. Today nearly 690 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. WFP projects they need $13.5 billion to bridge the gaps in their budget.

According to Taravella, a small group of 2200 billionaires hold about $8 trillion in global wealth. They could help to overturn the tidal wave of food insecurity washing over the world’s poor.

“We are making an appeal to the world’s exceptionally wealthy people to help us close that gap,” he added.

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Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.
Image by billy cedeno from Pixabay

On The Brink Of Starvation

Drone photographs of a parking lot outside a San Antonio food bank last week showed a staggering 10,000 cars awaiting delivery of food aid packages. Though media coverage is awash with statistics on unemployment rates and job losses caused by the pandemic, nothing captured the desperation of millions of Americans unable to put food on the table, like the image of the parking lot packed with cars of people in need of food.

“”I panicked. I’ve never seen a line that long,” food bank CEO Eric Cooper told NPR, as more than 4000 families, in addition to the 6000 who had registered, showed up tor free food.

Hunger and food insecurity is surging in the US as poor and unemployed households in a crippled economy struggle to make choices between rent, food or transportation.

Thousands of children who rely on low cost or free lunches provided by the National School Lunch Program are severely impacted by the food crisis. The program feeds almost 30 million school children every day. But as school closures forced by COVID-19 shutdowns disrupt access to nutritious meals, officials across the country are scrambling to find ways to make sure vulnerable children don’t go hungry.

And, while countries like the US try to avert coronavirus-related food crises for their people, COVID-19 is on the verge of creating a devastating hunger pandemic in the developing world.

“Even before COVID-19 hit, 135 million people on the planet were already struggling with acute food insecurity due to pre-existing shocks or crises,” explained FAO Director Dominique Burgeon in an interview.

“This means they were already on the extreme end of the hunger spectrum-weak, and less well-equipped to fend off the virus. A crisis within a crisis could emerge.”

COVID-19 could have catastrophic consequences in countries where vulnerable populations are already besieged by malnutrition, food scarcity, inadequate healthcare systems and lost livelihoods. David M. Beasley executive director of the U.N. World Food Program warns that the pandemic has the potential to push millions “to the brink of starvation” and detonate a hunger pandemic that may “sow the seeds of famine in its wake.”

This view was shared by several experts at a telebriefing organized by Ethnic Media Services (May 8), to understand the mounting health and hunger challenges that COVID-19 is imposing on the developing world.

Dulce Gamboa, a senior associate at Bread for the World, shared evidence  from the World Food Program that the number of people facing food crises would soar to 265 million by the end of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The world has never seen an ‘unprecedented’ hunger emergency like this,” she said, where millions of people facing a hunger crisis around the world don’t even know where their next meal is coming from.

People living in poverty and poorer economic nations face the prospect of starvation because lockdowns and social distancing measures during the pandemic undermine their ability to work and earn an income, while disrupting agricultural production and supply routes.

Almost 94 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central America and the Middle East will require humanitarian food assistance, stated Gamboa. A USAID Famine Early Warning System reported that the macroeconomic devastation, driven by a multitude of factors – protracted conflict, droughts, displacement and sudden loss of income and livelihood – was compounded by the hunger pandemic.

Though there are no changes in food prices, said Gamboa, “the food security situation for people living in poverty is likely to deteriorate significantly worldwide,” especially in countries like Sudan that were struggling even before the outbreak.  The hunger crisis is also being monitored in  Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, DRC and the Horn of Africa.

Poorer households in the informal economies of Latin American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have been impacted by declining remittances from the US, while in Venezuela, where nearly nine million were already suffering from malnutrition, people are under siege both from a collapsed economy and the fallout from the pandemic.

In Latin America, where an estimated 130 million live in low income barrios and villages, people are worried about being able to feed their families. They fear that hunger will kill them before the coronavirus does, said Gamboa.

How will poorer nations fight the virus “as the economic and health crisis becomes a global hunger crisis?

“A rise in malnutrition is inevitable,” said Gamboa, as COVID-19 exacerbates conditions for vulnerable populations at risk of poor nutrition.  Reduced dietary quality will impact immune systems, increase underlying health conditions, and threaten the healthcare of mothers and children. Newborns have a 100 day window to establish a strong immune system, says Gamboa. “A young, malnourished child will be stunted for life”

As COVID-19 churns through communities, upending the course of daily life as it chokes off access to food, healthcare and money, the FAO has launched a $110 million appeal for humanitarian aid to protect the food security of vulnerable populations.

Gamboa is urging the US to lead a strong global response to protect the food security of and ensure $12 billion in funding for global food, health and humanitarian assistance.

“There are red flags,” said Gamboa, which indicate that famine could be likely in the absence of humanitarian aid.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by V Srinivasan on Unsplash

Photo by Muhammad Muzamil on Unsplash