Latin American countries and the Caribbean are on the verge of confronting the deadly combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and a hunger crisis. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report that an estimated 83.4 million people will live in extreme poverty in 2020, potentially leading to a hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. This number will be 16 million more people than in the previous year. Latin America and the Caribbean’s seven years of slow growth could experience a historic drop in regional GDP (-5.2%).
Ways to Prevent a Hunger Crisis in Latin American and the Caribbean
As part of an initiative, ECLAC and FAO suggest 10 measures to prevent a hunger crisis in both Latin America and the Caribbean. They are as follows:
- Provide an anti-hunger grant which could take the form of cash transfers, food baskets or vouchers to the entire population living in extreme poverty for a six-month period. It would amount to an estimated cost of $23.5 billion.
- Support school-based food programs for children and adolescents.
- Support local and global humanitarian organizations like Action Against Hunger and World Food Program.
- Financially support agricultural companies with credit and subsidies.
- Enforce sanitary and health protocols for food production, transportation and food markets.
- Expand and ensure the functioning of programs to support local production.
- Support artisanal fishermen and family farmers who contribute a large portion of food in national markets with funding, technical assistance and access to inputs and labor.
- Maintain and add agile mechanisms for consultation and public-private interaction within all aspects of the food system (production, supply, distribution and access to food).
- Prevent wholesale and retail markets and agro-industries from closing or reducing their operations.
- Continue with policies that until now have kept the world food trade open.
Food Prices and Imports
As food systems weaken and unemployment increases, domestic food prices rise and people resort to purchasing cheaper, less nutritional options. The most vulnerable populations are the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Caribbean, the Dry Corridor in Central America, Haiti and Venezuela.
The Caribbean depends heavily on food imports from the United States and the United Kingdom. The area is also at high risk of supply chain disruption and impacts from hurricane season. The ports in the Dominican Republic did not reopen until a month after Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, devastated the island in 2017. Anticipating the season in 2020, organizations are subject to balancing the impacts of storms and maintaining measures against COVID-19.
Challenges in Tourism
The pandemic has also placed a strain on tourism in the Caribbean islands as travelers from all around the world had to cancel their trips due to government-issued orders. The Bahamas alone generates 75% to 80% of its GDP from tourism. These small island economies that often find themselves at odds against natural disasters face a decline in tourism by 60% to 70% between April and December.
The Situation with Remittances
Mexico and Central America face high extreme poverty, and undernourishment, especially among decreases in remittances. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are small countries with economies that rely on remittances. In 2016, the remittances that Salvadoreans received amounted to about 17% of the country’s GDP. During the worst of the pandemic, those countries suffered the most as people lost jobs globally, especially the U.S. where people send most remittances from. These countries are also at risk of border closures during the pandemic which is an obstacle for imports and exports.
Poverty and Food Insecurity
South America has a high proportion of poor, indigenous farming families who are already at a disadvantage from COVID-19, lacking proper treatment and medical equipment. In Peru, the country with the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases, millions are struggling with food security. About 20% of the population lived in poverty and survived through informal employment before the pandemic. Now struggling to find work and afford food, many are going days without food or relying on “community pots” for food.
The global pandemic and hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean could have serious implications if ignored. With a widespread hunger crisis, the world could experience “increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition,” said the U.N. World Food Program’s executive director, David Beasley.
Understanding the severity of this situation, it is imperative to pass legislation aimed at protecting the International Affairs Budget and increase international funding in the next emergency supplemental. With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in the near future, the most vulnerable populations need guaranteed access to food.
The ECLAC and FAO’s initiative and their 10 measures are crucial points in preventing a hunger crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean. The pandemic may have set these nations back, but the fight is not over. In fact, 83.4 million people are at risk and their future depends on these measures.
– Johana Vazquez