COVID-19

COVID-19 stokes worldwide fears about food insecurity

Victoria Craig Sep 9, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Food vendors serve dishes at the San Cosme market in Mexico City on Aug. 10, 2020 amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Street vendors were among the wage earners whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

COVID-19 stokes worldwide fears about food insecurity

Victoria Craig Sep 9, 2020
Food vendors serve dishes at the San Cosme market in Mexico City on Aug. 10, 2020 amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Street vendors were among the wage earners whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images
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As the U.S. economy went on lockdown earlier this year, the coronavirus pandemic forced many Americans to wonder where their next meals would come from.

But it’s not just the United States. COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity all around the world.

Globally, 61% of people work in the informal economy, according to aid and development charity Oxfam International. Domestic workers, street vendors, taxi and delivery drivers – all daily wage earners whose livelihoods were taken away when the coronavirus pandemic required shutdowns around the world.

That meant for many who were without daily work, money dried up, and so did meals.

Mathew Truscott, Oxfam International’s Head of Humanitarian Policy, said this year, about 121 million people have been pushed to the edge of starvation.

“That, of course, is across the main hot spots you think of: Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, South Sudan. But we’re also seeing hunger coming up in otherwise middle-income or developing countries: India, South Africa, Brazil, etc,” he said.

That’s because when such a large proportion of the population is forced to stay home either by sickness or government regulation, they’re at greater risk of long-term exposure to hunger.

“If you take people who are living day-to-day selling milk: If they can’t sell milk for a few days, it gets to the point where they then have to do something to have food and income. And it comes to the point where they then have to sell their means of income — so selling the cow, which had been providing them milk,” Truscott said. “And then they can’t go back to generating that income. And the same happens in urban areas where people had been taxi drivers: After so long of not being able to take fares and give taxi rides, they eventually have to sell off assets to cope. And that’s where we’re seeing this potentially long-term structural breakdown.”

To combat those effects, Oxfam International has proposed a range of solutions including $10.3 billion in humanitarian aid, cancellation of poor nations’ debt to pay for food and reinvest in agriculture, and build a more robust food system that can withstand shocks like this pandemic.

If that doesn’t happen, the consequences of food insecurity could become longer-term problems for nations of all sizes, said Dominic Moran who studies resource economics at the University of Edinburgh.

“That’s going to affect childhood nutrition: Children’s development and IQ is stunted. The human capital is degraded over the long term due to their inability to flourish,” explained Moran.

Moran explained other potential long-term economic effects of COVID-19-fueled recessions include lower investments in food supply by farmers and international organizations, and long-term unemployment, which limits an individual’s’ ability to both find new work and access food due to loss of income.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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