September 24, 2020

What we´re reading: The Other Way COVID Will Kill: Hunger

Manon KoningsteinEcoAgriculture Partners

The article on which this ´What we´re reading´ blog is based is originally published in the New York Times on September 11th, 2020 (and updated September 14th) by Peter S. Goodman, Abdi Latif Dahir and Karan Deep Singh.

At the end of this blog, we are asking our landscape partners to share their success stories on how their landscape partnerships have been able to deal with increased food insecurity due to the pandemic.

A year that will go down in history

There is no doubt. 2020 will be a year to never forget. A year that will change history, will impose new rules and behaviors, new ways of working, of traveling, and of looking at territorial boundaries. A year that will demand us to review the way we see our health care, our environment, and our food systems. 

Governments around the world took different decisions as a quick reaction to this unanticipated pandemic, by announcing lockdowns and urging everyone to stay at home or at least take into account a social distance of 1.5 meters. And though, at no point would I have liked to be in the shoes of any of those in charge, it is unmistakable that these lockdowns and restrictions come with consequences far more wide-spread, long-term, and devastating than we can ever imagine. Especially to those that are already in vulnerable situations, due to confronting trouble, military conflicts, and or climate-related disasters.

A recently published article in the New York Times: ´The other way COVID will kill: Hunger´, Peter Goodman and colleagues give examples of how this pandemic has led to more than a quarter of a billion people worldwide facing life-threatening levels of food insecurity (according to the United Nations World Food Program). 

It is not the first time large populations are facing extreme hunger, however, in the case of the current pandemic, food does remain widely available throughout the world, and the increased food insecurity is mostly linked to soaring food prices combined with drastic income declines, disrupted transportation links and currencies losing their value.

Photo: Manon Koningstein/IWMI

Fallen incomes and increasing food insecurity 

As explained in the article, the pandemic, and the resulting lockdowns and other regulations, have shut down markets and some farmers have not been able to sell their products or buy food for themselves. For many children, the only reliable meal was school lunch, and with schools being closed and their families losing their jobs, it has put entire families in dire situations. 

Holdups at border crossings in East Africa have created delays of multiple days for those transporting food, while at the same time opening up space for corruption and an increase of bribery, black markets, trafficking and fake documents. Truck drivers are hardly making an income, while valuable food is rotting in the back of the trucks.

In countries that have already faced decades of terrible conflicts and challenges, long before the pandemic began, such as the case of Sudan which the article discusses, the lockdown derailed local businesses like food stalls, decimating incomes. And just as the worldwide need for (international) help intensifies, the threat of the virus is forcing relief agencies to scrap public health campaigns and limit their outreach.

But hunger is also a daily occurrence in my home-country Spain, as mentioned in the article, and other countries like the  United States and Britain, as people now have to find their ways to foodbanks. And we are not even talking about those that are undocumented and cannot apply for any government aid or leave their houses for fear of being asked for their documentation. 

The connections between health, food and landscapes

This pandemic is bringing far wider consequences than we could ever imagine. It has made for a combination of limited food supplies and higher prices for basic goods, just as vast numbers of people have seen their incomes depleted. And once more, the very thin line and interconnected nature of health, food, economy and the environment has become clear (read more in this article by EcoAgriculture´s Sara Scherr and Sara Farley of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Initiative).

We can offer a bit of good news though. We have been hearing from landscape partnerships who are dealing with similar challenges and collaboratively finding solutions. We would love to spotlight more of these leaders, so please reach out to us with your story on how landscape initiatives are contributing to solutions for these challenges (please send them at mkoningstein@ecoagriculture.org).

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