By the end of the year, the number of deaths per day from hunger linked to the COVID-19 pandemic could exceed the number of deaths per day from the disease itself, a report from Oxfam warns.
The report, The hunger virus: how COVID-19 is fueling hunger in a hungry world (21 pages, PDF), estimates that as many as 12,000 people a day could die from hunger by the end of the year as a result of pandemic-related shutdowns, mass unemployment, disruptions in local food systems, and rising prices — more than the highest recorded daily mortality rate to date for COVID-19, which stands at just over 10,000 deaths a day. According to the World Food Programme, 821 million people were estimated to be food insecure in 2019 — of whom 149 million experienced crisis-level hunger or worse. But with COVID-19 exacerbating the impacts of conflict, inequality, and the climate crisis, millions more are now on the brink of starvation.
"Extreme hunger hotspots" include Afghanistan, where a third of the population is food insecure; South Sudan, where 60 percent of the population experienced crisis levels of hunger in 2019; Yemen, where remittances have dropped 80 percent in the first four months of 2020 as a result of soaring unemployment in the Gulf countries; and the West African Sahel, where restrictions on movement have prevented herders from driving their livestock to greener pastures for feeding. "Emerging hotspots" include Brazil, India, and South Africa. Despite the crucial role they play as food producers and workers, women and women-headed households have been especially hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic and are more likely to go hungry, in part because of systemic barriers to equal pay and land ownership, and because they have borne the brunt of a dramatic increase in unpaid care work as a result of school closures and family illness.
To save lives now and prevent future famines, the study's authors call on governments to fully fund a United Nations appeal for humanitarian aid and support its call for a global ceasefire; build fairer, more resilient, and more sustainable food systems; promote women's leadership and participation in discussions focused on fixing the broken global food system; cancel debt to allow lower-income countries to put social protection measures in place; and take urgent action to address climate change.
"COVID-19 is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, climate change, inequality, and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers," said Oxfam's interim executive director, Chema Vera. "Meanwhile, those at the top are continuing to make a profit: eight of the biggest food and drink companies paid out over $18 billion to shareholders since January even as the pandemic was spreading across the globe — ten times more than the UN says is needed to stop people going hungry."
(Photo credit: Haafedh Almattabi/Oxfam)