Coronavirus: Millions facing hunger around the world

22 April 2020

Vulnerable people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are facing a double emergency from hunger and Covid-19, as the pandemic is affecting food supply and shutting down livelihoods of millions who are already subsiding on very little. Find out how coronavirus is pushing people to hunger.

Women are at the forefront of trying to alleviate hunger during the coronavirus crisis. Photo: ActionAid India

As coronavirus reaches every corner of the earth, its impact could prove disastrous for the world’s poorest countries. Millions of people who already live in poverty, are now being forced out of their livelihoods, robbed of their regular income, and finding themselves without enough to eat, clean water and access to adequate medical care.

Across the global south, there are more than 30 countries who are struggling with hunger already. Here food is scarce, prices are rising in local markets, and at the same time millions have been left with no way of earning a living.

The coronavirus pandemic is creating a food crisis for those already struggling with food scarcity

Health crises rarely affect everyone equally. As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, those already struggling without adequate food and resources are in danger of severe illnesses and even death. 

From the Ebola epidemic in 2014, we can see how this unfolds.

In 2014, food production plummeted by 12% when the Ebola virus spread to Africa. In Liberia, 47% of farmers were unable to cultivate crops, restrictions and market closures disrupted flows of food, and shortages of supply led to an increase in prices and people went hungry.

In Zimbabwe, people were already struggling from a lack of food before Covid-19 threatened supplies. Photo: Karin Schermbrucker/ActionAi

Now in 2020, southern Africa is struggling with the aftermath of recent cyclones, erratic rainfall, drought and flooding. Many of the crops planted by farmers and households were washed away leaving little to no food for millions.

In Zimbabwe alone, 7.7 million people are already food insecure, food prices are soaring, and unemployment is as high as 80%. In February, the price of maize grain rose by 33.3% compared to January.

While in Malawi, 17.5% of the population already suffers from undernourishment which is one of the highest rates in the world. 

It also relies heavily on imported food to meet demand, and therefore faces a disproportionate risk from closures and supply chains breaking down. 

As Covid-19 spreads to these countries, millions of people who rely on food supply chains and farming are going to have even less food and risk illness and complications when their health is already compromised from undernourishment or malnourishment. 

Covid-19 lockdowns are creating hunger for those who rely on informal work and daily wages to survive

The world's poorest countries are also home to some of the world’s biggest informal economies. 

From street vendors, domestic workers and waste pickers to those who work in manual labour and farming, millions of people in the global south live hand-to-mouth, rely on daily wages, without any back-up income and safety nets to protect them.

Following lockdown in India, migrant families who toiled in urban centres like Mumbai and Delhi are returning to their rural hometowns and facing a life without work.

They had jobs in construction, agriculture, garment making, mining and formed the backbone of India’s economy but have lost their work overnight without any support in return.

In Myanmar, over 10,000 workers are unemployed, because factories closed during the crisis and more are expected to shut in the coming months, as demand and supply chains around the world dry up.

Under lockdown in India, vulnerable families and households need food now that their daily wage work has dried up. Photo: ActionAid India

Livelihoods in these parts of the world were already precarious, but government-mandated lockdowns are now effectively pushing millions of people into further poverty and hunger. 

There are no labour protections, savings or social security nets to catch those who fall. You won't find furlough schemes, universal benefits, unemployment or jobseekers benefits here.

Even where state or local governments can afford to compensate those who have lost their income from imposed sanctions, the poorest of these people - informal workers, daily-wage labourers, those already with very little, still lose out. They are invisible by the very nature of their work. They are not on any state tax registers or government social security systems. 

Without reimbursed lost income or guarantee of food on the table, some informal and daily wage workers are forced to work exposing themselves to the risk of the virus and then bringing it home to their overcrowded living arrangements.

An unequal pandemic

Coronavirus affects us all. But it’s not an equal pandemic for everyone.

It knows no borders. It doesn’t heed income nor notice inequality. It isn’t conscious of status nor is it mindful of the precariousness of life. It affects those who had very little to start with - in the most brutal way of all.

We are now facing another potential human rights crisis. Millions of people could go hungry if we don't act now. 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, people in the poorest parts of the world need our support more than ever. 

How local women are helping alleviate a potential hunger crisis

In immediate response to the Covid-19 crisis, local women are leading ActionAid’s efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus and hunger, distributing hygiene kits, food parcels and life-saving advice.

By working through women’s networks and local partners we can reach the most isolated communities – they know their contexts better than anyone.

ActionAid is still responding to existing food and climate crises in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where 9.5 million people were already in dire circumstances following two major cyclones, erratic rains, flooding and the worst drought the region has seen in 35 years.

In India, Somaliland and the occupied Palestinian territory, ActionAid has set up community kitchens for migrant and informal workers, is providing essential food supplies to women living with their children in camps for internally displaced people and is also running food parcel donation schemes.

We are hoping to reach more than 55,000 of the most vulnerable families.

How you can help

ActionAid is on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis helping to stop the spread and save lives as the pandemic hits the world’s poorest countries.

From Italy to India, Liberia to Kenya, local ActionAid-supported women’s groups are distributing life-saving advice, health information and hygiene kits to vulnerable communities.

We are also distributing food packages and essential supplies, working to stop violence before it happens, and provide support to women and girls who are affected. Please donate now to help us reach people in urgent need.

Support our Coronavirus Appeal

Images: ActionAid India; Karin Schermbrucker/ActionAid.