COVID-19

COVID-19 stokes worldwide fears about food insecurity

Victoria Craig Sep 9, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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