International, June 21, 2020, 6:37 p.m.

How to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a hunger epidemic


Before COVID-19, 135 million were experiencing hunger so severe that it threatened their lives and livelihoods. Now with COVID-19, that number could double by the end of 2020.

Pandemics and hunger crises go hand in hand. COVID-19 is no different. The economic impact of the pandemic translates into poverty as millions of people’s sources of income fall due to job losses. Remittances to low-and middle-income countries are expected to fall by 20% in 2020, more than double international aid to Africa.


All of this adds up to a situation where an additional 419 million people could be pushed to live under US$1.90 a day. It only takes basic arithmetic to conclude that the price of food will rise substantially for the poorest families.


Ironically, food is not in short supply globally: in Europe and the US, milk is being dumped and eggs are being smashed as demand from restaurants decreases.


However, food access poses a problem. Most people access their food from local markets, but farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to grow and sell crops due to social distancing and containment measures. Globally, wrong-headed protectionist measures increase the price of food, compounded by exchange rate volatility for many African countries. As a result, food imports could fall by a quarter in sub-Saharan Africa this year.


For the most vulnerable, shrinking access to food will have devastating consequences. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in every 5 people is undernourished. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, nearly 60% of consumption expenditure is spent on food. More than 85% of Senegalese have reported income loss, and over a third are eating less food.


How to prevent a hunger epidemic
If governments and businesses take action now, we can prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from spilling over into a hunger epidemic.


Here’s how:


Expand and improve food assistance and social protection programmes via governments to protect those most at risk.
Reduce costs of sending remittances.
Enact a debt moratorium for 2020 and 2021 for private, bilateral, and multilateral debt.
Create “grain corridors” to ensure the free flow of food supplies.
Ensure active government efforts to create adequate food reserves.
Avoid extreme protectionist measures on the import and export of food, such as limiting panic buying and hoarding.
Ensure full donor funding of the US$6.7 billion request to fund the Global Humanitarian Response Plan, designed to create a global response plan to help fight COVID-19 in the 64 most vulnerable countries.

For more details, read our policy paper: COVID-19: How to stop hunger from becoming more deadly than the virus.