The UN has warned that the world is on the verge of the worst food crisis in at least 50 years as the recession following the COVID-19 pandemic may put basic nutrition beyond impoverished people's reach. The organization has urged governments to take prompt action to prevent further disaster as 49 million more may fall into extreme poverty due to the outbreak.
Food systems are failing and the pandemic is making things worse, said UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, on June 9, 2020.
"Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food emergency that could have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults."
Although harvests of crops are holding up and export bans and protectionism have been largely avoided so far, the worst of the pandemic's impacts and the recession that will follow is yet to be felt.
This year, about 49 million more may fall into extreme poverty due to the coronavirus as the number of people who are severely food insecure will rapidly expand.
"Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain," Guterres pointed out. "We need to act now to avoid the worst impacts of our efforts to control the pandemic."
The secretary-general plotted a three-point plan to restore the world's ailing food systems and avoid further harm.
First, countries must focus aid on the worst-affected regions to ward off immediate disaster and for governments to prioritize food supply chains.
"That means designating food and nutrition services as essential while implementing appropriate protections for food workers. It means preserving critical humanitarian food, livelihood, and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups."
"And it means positioning food in food-crisis countries to reinforce and scale up social protection systems," he added.
Second, countries must strengthen social protection systems for nutrition by safeguarding access to safe and nutritious food, especially for young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people, and other vulnerable groups.
"This includes supporting children who no longer have access to school meals," he continued.
Third, people must invest in the future by building a more inclusive and sustainable world.
"We have an opportunity to build a more inclusive and sustainable world," Guterres said. "Let us build food systems that better address the needs of food producers and workers. Let us provide more inclusive access to healthy and nutritious food so we can eradicate hunger."
According to Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the world's food systems were under threat as never before in modern times, as the coronavirus outbreak and lockdowns hinder people's ability to buy and sell food.
"We need to be careful," Torero reminded, "this is a very different food crisis than the ones we have seen."
The UN's report on the pandemic's impact on food security shows that harvests are healthy and supplies of staple foods are robust, but most people get theirs from local markets, which are affected by the lockdowns.
Loss of income attributed to lockdowns are also putting food out of reach for many people who are already struggling. Although global markets remained steady, the price of basic necessities has started to hike in some nations.
Lockdowns are slowing down harvests while millions of seasonal laborers are not able to work. Food waste has hit damaging levels as farmers are forced to throw perishable produce as the result of supply chain problems. Meat industry plants have been forced to close as well.
"The Covid-19 crisis is attacking us at every angle," said Agnes Kalibata, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the 2021 food systems summit.
"It has exposed dangerous deficiencies in our food systems and actively threatens the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, especially the more than 1 billion people who have employment in the various industries in food systems."
Kalibata added that there was also a chance for countries to improve food systems, alongside reducing poverty and increasing worldwide resilience.
"Food has always brought people together and it can again if we build back better as it relates to our food systems."
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