COVID-19 will magnify food shortage in Africa

The pandemic can more than double the number of people facing food crisis, unless swift action is taken, warned Global Network Against Food Crises

By Vineet Kumar
Published: Tuesday 05 May 2020

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated concerns over global food shortage. The World Food Program (WFP) in January 2020 flagged that a record 45 million people were at the brink of food insecurity caused by climate emergency.

The situation, compounded by droughts, widespread flooding and economic disarray, has made women and children the most vulnerable in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community.

 “This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse”, Lola Castro, WFP’s regional director for Southern Africa, had pointed out earlier. At that time, the world did not have the remotest clue of the challenge that would bring the world to an abrupt halt — the COVID-19 outbreak.

Global Network Against Food Crises had also warned that COVID-19 will more than double the number of people facing food crisis, unless swift action is taken.

The United Nations alliance said at the end of 2019, 135 million people in 55 countries and territories faced acute food insecurity and another 183 million in 47 countries will slide into acute food insecurity if confronted by additional shocks from COVID-19 pandemic.

It added that Africa had the largest number of acutely food-insecure people in need of assistance, particularly in the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, followed by Central America and Pakistan.

The 10 countries that could face the worst food crisis were

  • Yemen
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Afghanistan
  • Venezuela
  • Ethiopia
  • South Sudan
  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Sudan
  • Northen Nigeria
  • Haiti

Situation likely to worsen

The assessment warned that the situation is will get worse due to the COVID-19 impact, although the precise magnitude was not yet known. Conflict/insecurity, weather extremes, desert locusts, economic shocks and COVID-19 are expected to be the key drivers of acute food insecurity.

Most vulnerable countries may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people suffering from COVID-19 to have them die from hunger.

Higher rates of underlying health conditions, including non-communicable diseases and malnutrition that weaken the immune system, are likely to increase the risk of people developing severe symptoms.

Necessary movement restrictions, combined with the expected slowdown of the global economy, threaten to disrupt food production, processing and marketing activities as well as livestock movement. This could result in increase in food prices.

Rising unemployment and under-employment and decreasing purchasing power will have serious consequences for poor and vulnerable populations.

COVID-19 could also have negative effects on social and political stability, creating conditions for unrest, especially in the most vulnerable food crisis countries.

Global Network against Food Crises said that the high income nations may find it increasingly difficult to help other countries as they themselves would be affected by the pandemic. It warned that there was a risk of reductions in resources allocating for addressing food crises and malnutrition, with deleterious consequences for the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Urgent pre-emptive actions needed

Action points recommended by the international alliance coordinated by Global Network Against Food Crises and Food Security Information Network are as follows:

  • Global international community must accelerate efforts and hasten progress
  • Promote high quality data collection and sharing required for understanding food crisis
  • Rethink food and agricultural systems, make it flexible to deliver under current realities
  • Advocate for political action to address the root causes of food insecurity
  • Serious strategic investments in food security, resilience at country and regional level
  • Improve early warning, early action, strengthen national social protection and livelihoods support
  • Ensure people are the focus of structural changes



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