On June 9, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres released a new U.N. policy brief regarding global access to proper nutrition and a potential COVID-19 global food emergency. The brief explained that if countries do not act now, a global food emergency will be inevitable. Millions of people were dealing with hunger and malnutrition before the pandemic, but current statistics show that hunger is more rampant than ever due to the pandemic’s effects.
According to the U.N., there is enough food to feed the global population of 7.8 billion people, but 820 million people remain hungry. Of these people, 144 million children are stunted due to malnutrition – more than one in five children worldwide. A “stunted” child has physical and cognitive growth failure that develops over a long period of time due to limited access to food and health care. Similarly, there are currently 47 million children classified as “wasting.” Wasting children have a dangerously low weight-to-height ratio due to acute food shortages or disease. The growth of 700,000 children will be stunted for every percentage point drop in the global GDP, making the pandemic’s economic impact even greater.
As of May, 368 million schoolchildren were missing out on daily school meals that they depended on for food. While these numbers are already high, they are predicted to continue to rise if countries do not act now to avoid a global food emergency. The U.N. policy brief posed three recommendations to save lives and create sustainable food production.
Essential Food Services
Measures to control COVID-19 outbreaks are affecting global food supply chains. Border restrictions and slowing harvests in some parts of the world are leaving millions of seasonal workers without jobs. Also, these factors constrain the transport of food to markets.
Governments are forcing the closure of many meat and dairy processing plants and food markets due to virus outbreaks among workers. Farmers have been buying perishable produce or dumping milk as a result of supply chain disruption and falling consumer demand. Because many people cannot buy fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish, they are suffering from malnutrition.
To combat these challenges, countries should require that food and nutritional services, and the processing and transport of their goods, are considered essential and remain open during the pandemic. Additionally, governments should provide protections for people working in this sector.
The policy brief stated that countries should strengthen social protection systems for nutrition, including the millions of children missing out on meals at school. There needs to be a focus on vulnerable groups like children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and the elderly so they can access safe and nutritional foods.
Food systems are a major contributor to climate change. In general, countries need to transform food systems to achieve a more sustainable world. Food systems contribute to 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions, including 44% of all methane emissions. Not only are these realities damaging on their own, but they are exacerbated by additional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries should be aware of their environmental impact and reconsider how they produce, market, process and consume food and how they dispose of waste. Per the U.N. policy brief, countries are strongly urged to consider the recommendations to avoid a COVID-19 global food emergency.
What Is Being Done, and How You Can Help
Across the world, food systems must be protected not only for consumers but also for humanitarian efforts. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is dedicated to helping millions of people around the world. Thirty million men, women and children depend on WFP for daily survival as it is their only source of food. WFP is responding by increasing food production, supporting the global response and monitoring data. Data is essential to creating the right solutions at the right time. Donations are always needed and now more than ever to provide millions with the necessary food.
As WFP states “Hunger won’t stop because of a virus, so neither will we.”