The raging COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted another dismal fact. This year, a simple meal of rice and beans will be far beyond the reach of many more millions of people.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, said the cost of a basic meal far exceeds the daily income of poor people in many countries. For instance, in South Sudan a meal costs 186% of a person’s daily income. If a resident in New York State had to pay the same proportion of their salary for a basic meal, it would cost US$393.
“It is the most vulnerable people who feel the worst effects. Their lives were already on the edge – prior to the coronavirus pandemic we were looking at the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II – and now their plight is so much worse as the pandemic threatens nothing less than a humanitarian catastrophe,” WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley said.
This is another global problem for which the world will look to Joe Biden for support when he returns to the international fold and reenters the Paris Climate Change accords.
Hopefully, the civil wars among American politicians will not slow him down because the pandemic is deepening poverty, adding to the rising levels of hunger around the world already worsened by conflict, climate change and economic troubles.
Even Americans are not safe from hunger. More than a third of Black Americans and 22% of Hispanics have used a food pantry, food bank or community food distribution during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly 50 million extra people are expected to fall into extreme poverty because of the coronavirus crisis. Lack of food will have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults. About 300 million people are estimated to be living at the brink of starvation because of poverty and inefficient food systems.
To deal with these growing tragedies, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will convene a Food Systems Summit this year. The goals will be to create a global plan to transform food systems to reduce hunger and diet-related disease without damaging the planet.
Transforming food systems is crucial because the world wastes more than 1 billion tons of food every year. How food is produced and consumed must be changed, while also reducing greenhouse emissions by food producers and the industry.
Current food systems contribute up to 29 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, including 44 per cent of methane, and are having negative impacts on biodiversity.
“There is more than enough food in the world to feed our population of 7.8 billion people. But, today, more than 820 million people are hungry. And some 144 million children under the age of 5 are stunted – more than one in five children worldwide,” Guterres said. “Our food systems are failing, and the Covid-19 pandemic is making things worse.”
Reviving the world economy is vital. Every percentage point drop in GDP means that another 700,000 children are stunted. Restoring livelihoods and work should include food and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups.
Thinking ahead, the earth will have to feed 10 billion people as this century moves forward. So methods have to be found for farming that regenerates the earth, feeds people healthy food and heals the planet.
Consumers can become part of this transition by eating plant-rich and diverse diets, reducing waste and recycling it for productive uses. But first, the coronavirus pandemic must be controlled.