Addressing Food Insecurity in the Time of Coronavirus
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations’ World Food Programme shines a spotlight on world hunger. The World Food Programme estimates 265 million worldwide suffer from acute hunger, a number that has doubled in the past year because of disruption and devastation from the coronavirus pandemic. Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries requires not only medical supplies, but greater investment in food aid for the world’s most needy.
The coronavirus pandemic threatens to reverse decades of progress on reducing poverty and food insecurity. It jeopardizes the safety and wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people around the globe. The international community is faced with a critical decision – whether to increase funding for food assistance as part of a coronavirus aid package and protect the vulnerable, or ignore and un-do the immense progress made in recent years.
Adding to the problems of food security is climate change. Higher global temperatures leads to more droughts and floods, which trigger higher food prices and riots in countries that heavily rely on staple products such as grain. A coronavirus pandemic adds to these troubles, overwhelming public health capacity, and disrupting worldwide supply chains, global economic markets, and livelihoods.
The World Food Programme’s Peace Prize highlights the importance of international cooperation in alleviating hunger. Yet the prize highlighting its actions is meaningless without greater international investment in its work. In 2019, the World Food Programme helped 97 million people in 88 countries, 30 million of whom who had no other sources of food.
The benefits of addressing food insecurity far outweigh the costs.
The first benefit is a crucial safety net for agricultural workers. If your crops this year were destroyed due to a flood or drought, food aid assures that you would have enough food for yourself and your family. This is particularly true in nations that do not formalize land rights, where workers are regularly displaced.
The second benefit is fair prices. Food aid takes away power from corrupt middlemen who capitalize on food shortages by stockpiling and profiteering. Fair prices ensure food availability, instead of food riots.
The third benefit is better education and health. Food aid enables children to attend and focus in school. Food aid promotes better health outcomes, addressing underlying vulnerabilities which make populations susceptible to illness in the first place. Nutrition is a key building block in providing immunity against disease.
Some doubt the benefit of a long-term investment in food assistance. They would be ignoring the immense progress made in recent decades in a dramatic fall of extreme poverty. In 2018, the World Bank reported that the number of people living in extreme poverty (at or below $1.90 per day) fell from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015. This astonishing progress speaks to the collective power of the international community in harnessing positive change. This same collective energy should strengthen access to affordable food during the coronavirus pandemic. Food insecurity should remain at the forefront of foreign assistance packages during a time when it has never been needed more.
The World Food Programme’s Nobel Peace Prize speaks to the power of collaborative international action. Food security promotes peace in place of war, stability in place of destruction, and hope in place of despair. Addressing coronavirus in developing countries requires not only medical supplies, but greater investment in food aid. Hundreds of millions are watching and waiting for the international community to act. It is the international community’s duty to step up to the challenge, provide food aid, and provide the way forward for the world’s most needy.