As government restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 have now been largely in place globally for most of 2020, international organizations are sounding the alarm that global starvation may be on the horizon due to food shortages and economic disruptions.
In Africa, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development warns that the continent suffers a new threat to food security: COVID-19. The continent, which imported 85% of its food in 2018, is facing a crisis as the costs of food skyrocket worldwide due to economic disruptions from the pandemic.
Elsewhere, in Latin America and the Caribbean, a collection of United Nations agencies are warning of rising hunger in a region already struck by food insecurity and right on the United States’ doorstep. The agencies warned:
The agencies said the pandemic follows seven years of slow economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, and could result in the biggest drop in regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in a century; a decline of -5.3 per cent.
This will push an additional 16 million more people into extreme poverty this year, in a region where nearly 54 million people were already experiencing severe food insecurity.
COVID-19 is also affecting food systems, with domestic food prices rising higher than other basic items. Increased unemployment means millions are unable to buy enough to eat, while many others are forced to find cheaper food that is less nutritious.
The United Nations has previously noted a link between hunger and migration, explaining that research generally agrees ” food insecurity is one of the dimensions influencing migration,” and that “environmental and financial shocks that reduce access to food and increase food costs,” potentially including a pandemic that disrupts the global food chain, “coupled with weak institutions and a lack of employment opportunities, also contribute to migration.” All of this may set the stage for a post-COVID migrant crisis.
However, food insecurity issues are not limited to Africa and Latin America. In the United States, more than one in six adults was food insecure only two months into the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
According to the Urban Institute, “the COVID-19 pandemic has put millions of families at risk of experiencing food insecurity,” and studied the pandemic’s impacts on the country as of May.
They found that “May 2020, more than one in six nonelderly adults (17.7 percent) and more than one in five parents living with children under 19 (21.8 percent) reported that their households experienced food insecurity during the prior 30 days,” and that American families largely became more dependent on charity and government programs in the opening months of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Harvard Health Blog stresses that COVID-19 may lead to eating disorders in the United States, as Americans facing smaller grocery budgets may resort to making less expensive, less nutritious meals, or eating less in general, in order to make ends meet. Likewise, Harvard also warned against Americans with means who may engage in binge eating as a coping mechanism for the increased stress from the pandemic.
The article continues to explain that COVID-19 is stretching the resources of American food banks to their limits, and urges a “coordinated multi-sector approach” to avoid falling “all short of solving food insecurity” in communities throughout the country.