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School Meals Coalition
During the Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the United Nations launched the School Meals Coalition. The coalition emerged as a response to the African Union’s March 2021 communiqué regarding the need for a global school meal program.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Food Insecurity

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing food insecurity among school children worldwide. Food insecurity severely affects children living in low to high-income countries. School closures amid COVID-19 and a lack of resources have resulted in schoolchildren being unable to access meals they previously received from schools. To make matters worse, the incentive to attend school and receive an education frequently diminishes as food insecurity grows. The School Meals Coalition aims to prevent growing food insecurity in schools. The coalition is seeking to ensure that every child receives access to healthy school meals by 2030 to address the effects of the pandemic and improve the quality of life for all children.

How Hunger Affects Education

More than 1 billion children attend school worldwide. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 338 million children relied on school meal programs. Unfortunately, there still remained 73 million children in 60 lower-income countries without access to these essential school meals. COVID-19 has only increased the number of hungry children globally. At the peak of the pandemic in April 2020, school closures meant that 370 million children lost access to their one guaranteed meal for the day.

Even as schools reopened in 2021, 150 million children continued to go without school nutrition. Access to food stabilizes communities. Conversely, poverty and hunger often cause students to leave school. Without food stability, students lose the incentive to attend school. Ultimately, lack of education and poverty increases child labor and leaves young girls vulnerable to early marriages and gender-based violence.

UNICEF’s The State of the World’s Children 2019 report found that undernutrition produces various obstacles for children. Malnutrition leads to susceptibility to infection and poor cognition and development. In 2019, 149 million children younger than 5 years old suffered from stunting and close to 50 million children endured wasting. The report concluded that nutrition plays a vital role in child development and beyond, stating that hunger “threatens the survival, growth and development of children, young people, economies and nations.” If left unchecked, malnutrition can hinder the livelihoods of people across the world.

What is the School Meals Coalition?

Spearheaded by Iceland, Finland, France and the World Food Programme (WFP), the School Meals Coalition faces a challenging task. In its entirety, the coalition includes 40 member states, U.N. agencies, academic groups, multilateral organizations and more. The European and African Unions prioritize the coalition’s success. For the alliance to succeed, it needs to repair pandemic-induced losses by 2023, reach previously missed students from low-income countries and improve its strategy for school meal programs by 2030.

Although the task appears daunting, the program is seeking to make sustainable and manageable changes to existing systems. For instance, the School Meals Coalition will equip schools worldwide to rely on healthy, local and indigenous foods the communities prepare. By providing communities the tools for school meal programs, the coalition will utilize a “holistic approach to child well-being through the integration of education, health and social protection.”

Thus far, the coalition has established initiatives to set the program in motion. Such initiatives include a research consortium, a financing task force and an advocacy and outreach task force. Furthermore, the coalition intends to create a peer-to-peer network to share strategies and a monitoring process that the World Food Programme leads. The WFP’s annual “State of School Feeding Worldwide” publication will look at the coalition’s progress.

The Coalition’s Impact Beyond the Classroom

The School Meals Coalition will inevitably impact more than just nutrition for school children. Ultimately, the coalition will help to improve and stabilize communities and food systems. Programs like the WFP’s Home-Grown School Feeding Program will emerge across low to high-income countries. When schools utilize food that communities produce and prepare, women and local businesses receive equitable and equal opportunities. Not only will students receive a quality education with suitable learning conditions but their families will also encounter job opportunities and learn sustainable food and business practices.

– Dana Gil
Photo: Flickr

Guinea-Bissau
Guinea
-Bissau, a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is known for cashew nut farming, which amounts to “90% of the country’s exports,” serving as “a main source of income for an estimated two-thirds of the country’s households.” However, almost 70% of the country’s population lives in poverty.  Among the issues of poverty that plague Guinea-Bissau is food insecurity, low educational attainment and inadequate healthcare. The World Food Programme (WFP), in particular, supports Guinea-Bissau by tackling several issues through humanitarian aid and support.

Food Insecurity and Education

In Guinea-Bissau specifically, the WFP focuses its efforts on supplying “nutritional support” to roughly 96,000 citizens. Data indicates that about a quarter of Guinea-Bissau’s population endures chronic malnutrition. Therefore, in specific, the WFP’s nutrition programs work on combating malnutrition among children younger than 5 as well as “pregnant and nursing women.”

On top of food and nutrition support, the WFP also focuses on education in Guinea-Bissau. In 2014, the overall literacy rates of young citizens aged 15-24 in Guinea-Bissau stood at just 60%. A specific strategy the WFP employs to tackle both food insecurity and low educational attainment rates are supplying meals to more than 173,000 school students to encourage students to attend school. Furthermore, “take-home food rations for female students” aim to “encourage girls to attend and remain in school” since rates of school completion for girls are disproportionately low. The hope is for the WFP to assist the Guinean government in taking over this school feeding program.

In order to strengthen the long-term food security of Guinea-Bissau, the WFP is helping rural people gain access to “social services and markets.” In addition, on June 24, 2021, the WFP provided “agricultural tools and seeds” to about 120 female farmers for the purpose of growing food in their local communities. For short-term food security, the WFP delivered 80 million tons of rice across villages in Guinea-Bissau.

COVID-19 in Guinea Bissau

The WFP is also assisting Guinea-Bissau to better manage the COVID-19 crisis within the country. By October 1, 2021, Guinea-Bissau reported more than 6,000 COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths. As a low-income country with a GDP per capita of just $727, the nation does not have adequate funding or resources for resilient and effective healthcare facilities as well as a strong and efficient COVID-19 response.

The WFP supports Guinea-Bissau with supply chain management of essential COVID-19 resources such as “personal protective equipment, medical equipment, medicines and hospital lab supplies” and delivers these resources to health facilities across the country.

Looking Ahead

Guinea-Bissau faces significant challenges regarding poverty, food insecurity education and healthcare, among other issues. Through how WFP continuously supports Guinea-Bissau, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions in the country can improve. With both long-term and short-term humanitarian efforts, hope exists for the people of Guinea-Bissau to rise out of poverty as resilient, empowered and productive individuals.

– Makena Roberts
Photo: Flickr

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Hunger In BrazilBrazil, among other countries, has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering one of the highest death tolls in the world at 556,834 people as of August 2021. However, its infection rates are decreasing. The country had 247,830 confirmed cases as of the week of July 26 and more than 133,000,000 vaccine doses administered as of August: a marked improvement from earlier on in the pandemic. Nonetheless, one still-worsening effect of the pandemic in Brazil is hunger.

Hunger in Brazil

Hunger existed in Brazil long before COVID-19 reached the South American nation, where inequality has fueled high rates of poverty and food insecurity. In 2011, despite a relatively high GDP of $10,900 per capita, roughly 16 million Brazilians lived in extreme poverty, and many lacked the income to support an adequate diet.

However, the U.N. World Food Programme’s 2020 Hunger Map, which displays data from 2017-2019, showed positive progress in Brazil. Less than 2.5% of the total population was undernourished, a rate among the lowest in the world.

COVID-19 Worsens Hunger in Brazil

While the U.N. statistics demonstrate positive trends, COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity by widening preexisting inequalities in Brazil’s population. For example, the pandemic caused prices of basic food products to increase. Cooking oils, rice and other diet essentials became so expensive that they were essentially impossible to purchase for many families in Brazil. The New York Times pointed out that as of April 2021, a kilogram of rice sold for twice as much as before the pandemic, and cooking oil tripled in price in the same period.

High unemployment rates caused by the pandemic combined with high food prices further increased the rates of hunger. In an interview with Reuters, unemployed worker Rosana de Paula describes the situation among the unemployed. Because of a lack of credit and little to no savings, the sudden disappearance of income from pandemic-related unemployment is devastating, leaving “no way to pay for food,” according to de Paula.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic and with hunger continually worsening in Brazil, the country is back in the “yellow zone” on the U.N.’s Hunger Map. In an interview with The New Humanitarian, the Director of the Center of Excellence Against Hunger said increasing hunger has raised the alarm in Brazil. More than 19 million people, or 9% of the population, are currently food insecure.

Ways the World is Helping Brazil

Despite the hardships the pandemic has created for many Brazilian families, NGOs and other grassroots campaigns have stepped in to alleviate the hunger crisis. Food campaigns across the country have offered support and resources, distributing meals to millions of Brazilian families. Anyone worldwide can donate to these anti-hunger campaigns to help curb the high demand for food and other necessities that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela 
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has been significant in regard to food security and medical care, but food shortages and malnutrition were already rampant between 2015 and 2017 in Venezuela. By the end of 2018, wholesale prices doubled nearly every 19 days due to inflation. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans migrated in search of more stability and opportunity.

In response to these issues, Venezuelans protested against the authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro, in 2019. The outbreak of protests demanded a new constitution addressing issues related to economic instability and medical care. Then, on March 13, 2020, the first COVID-19 case occurred in Venezuela.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Venezuela, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 250,309 confirmed cases and 2,814 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela compounded on preexisting humanitarian issues of economic instability, health and food insecurity. In response, nonprofit organizations and international government organizations began providing aid to people in vulnerable situations in Venezuela.

Life Before the Pandemic

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, Venezuela’s economy experienced a debt of higher than $150 billion. In addition, the GDP shrunk by roughly two-thirds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to this, Venezuela experienced the highest poverty rates in Latin America, affecting 96% of the people. These issues resulted in a lack of essential products such as medical care, potable water, food and gasoline.

Health Security in Venezuela

In the past five years, over 50% of doctors and nurses emigrated from Venezuela to escape economic instability. This is according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A declining health system was unable to provide aid for infectious disease, malnutrition and infant mortality. As a result, the spread of COVID-19 resulted in heavily populated hospitals with minimal resources.

Without adequate pay and protection for medical professionals, as well as a shortage of potable water and protective medical gear, Venezuela’s hospitals experienced difficulty in responding to COVID-19. According to WHO, around 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases resulted in death. WHO predicts this number to be much higher in Venezuela. This is because the country’s hospitals lack basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds and respirators.

In response to these issues, the National Academy of Medicine in Venezuela, a politically independent medical organization, sought to reduce the impact of the pandemic on existing health care systems. The Academy made a request to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, on May 2, 2021, for the U.S. to add Venezuela to its international donor list for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations. Venezuela already received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia.

However, the National Academy of Venezuela stated that to control the pandemic, the country needs to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccines they received represent less than 10% of what Venezuela needs.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

At the end of 2020, with exports at a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, food inflation rose to 1,700%, resulting in a significant increase in food prices. As a result of inflation and international sanctions, the WFP also projected that Venezuela will experience a slow recovery to intensifying humanitarian issues, including food insecurity.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has resulted in 65% of families experiencing the inability to purchase food because of the hyperinflation of food products and inadequate income. In order to survive while experiencing food shortages, families in Venezuela reduced the variety of food and portion sizes of meals.

However, those in vulnerable positions, such as children, pregnant women, those with preexisting health conditions and the elderly, experienced malnutrition because of the inability to meet nutritional needs. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that one of every three people in Venezuela is food insecure. During the pandemic, those experiencing food insecurity continued to increase. The U.N. reported that prior to the pandemic, one in four elderly people, a demographic that maintained the majority of wealth in Venezuela, skipped meals. During the pandemic, more than four in 10 have been skipping meals.

Humanitarian Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela

In 2020, the U.N. developed the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks to provide 4.5 million adults and children throughout Venezuela with access to humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA. The plan requires $762.5 million to provide health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, shelter and educational support. The plan carries out objectives of providing emergency relief, improving access to basic services and providing protection for the most vulnerable in Venezuela, especially during the pandemic.

Over 129 humanitarian organizations, including agencies associated with the U.N., will implement the Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela. It has already responded to emergency relief to COVID-19 and led to the return of tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, according to OCHA.

Throughout 2020, the U.N. received $130 million in support of this Humanitarian Plan. This allows humanitarian organizations to reach 3.3 million vulnerable people in Venezuela with basic necessities. This will include humanitarian assistance, per OCHA’s report. Additionally, the Plan allowed for 1.4 million people to receive humanitarian assistance in response to COVID-19.

The global pandemic and humanitarian issues are continuing in Venezuela, leading to a necessity for improved food security and medical care. As a result, throughout 2020, the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations, increased their presence in Venezuela. They will continue to encourage additional humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Sahrawi Refugees living in AlgeriaFor more than 45 years, Sahrawi refugees have left Western Sahara into neighboring countries fleeing conflict and instability. Many Sahrawi refugees have found themselves living in camps in Algeria. In these camps, refugees struggle with food and water insecurity, lack of medicine and healthcare access. This overview of the forgotten crisis of Sahrawi Refugees living in Algeria will provide insight into the ongoing humanitarian struggle.

The Refugee Camps in Algeria

A conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front over Western Sahara’s sovereignty has gone on since Spain withdrew from the area in 1975. In the wake of this conflict, hundreds of thousands of Saharawi people have been displaced and have sought refuge in countries like Algeria. For more than 45 years, the Saharawi people have been living in camps in Algeria’s Tindouf region, which borders Western Sahara. There are five camps housing more than 150,000 Sahrawi refugees near the Algerian town of Tindouf. These refugees live almost entirely on humanitarian aid and assistance. The Algerian government has worked to improve the living conditions of these refugees by providing secondary education, healthcare services, land and infrastructure improvements. The government also works with international organizations like the UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF to continue supporting Sahrawi refugees.

Challenges for the Sahrawi Refugees

The situation of the Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria is referred to as the ‘forgotten crisis’ because there is little media coverage of their situation. According to the World Food Programme, over 88% of the Sahrawi Refugees are either at risk or suffering from food insecurity. Acute malnutrition affects roughly 8% of Sahrawi children aged five or younger and over 50% of Sahrawi women between the ages of 15 and 49 suffer from anemia. The COVID-19 pandemic has added further difficulties to the situation of the Sahrawi refugees. Since March 2020, the Sahrawi are under quarantine, with humanitarian aid continuing to arrive.

The Sahrawi refugee’s dependence on humanitarian aid has left the people lacking ways to be self-sufficient. Sahrawi refugees are at risk of radicalization or social unrest. There are few employment opportunities and frustration develops with the ongoing conflict in Western Sahara and vulnerability to flash floods and sandstorms. The lockdown has also caused many Sahrawi refugees to loose jobs, causing them to rely more heavily on aid.

Bilateral Aid

Despite being known as the “forgotten crisis,” there is still work being done to improve the Sahrawi refugees’ situation. In 2020, the EU provided more than $9 million in humanitarian aid for the Sahrawi refugees, primarily food, water and medicine. World Food Programme rations provide Sahrawi refugees with 2,100 calories a day and $5.4 million has gone toward combating malnutrition of women and children, which has been a persistent problem for refugees. There are plans to extend the water network in the camps to improve the efficiency of delivering water to the refugees. More than $500,000 have been used to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by improving hospitals and their capacities to deal with sickness. Efforts have been made to support disabled refugees to ensure they are part of the community.

Swiss contributions to the WFP’s efforts in Algeria have totaled more than $30 million over several decades. The programs have encouraged more than 40,000 children to attend school through a meal program which paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic but will continue afterward. While the Sahrawi camps are under lockdown during the pandemic, humanitarian aid provides necessary food, water and medicine to refugees. The Algerian government has included the Sahrawi refugees in its national response plan to support them throughout the lockdown in the form of sanitary services, medical supplies and a referral system to track the virus.

NGOs Helping the Sahrawi Refugees

Several nonprofits are working to help the Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria. The Danish Refugee Council has been working in Sahrawi refugee camps since 2016, providing over 200,000 people with training in business skills, self-sufficiency, business grants and technical support. Oxfam International has been providing fresh produce, clean water, farming skills and community support for refugees since the start of the crisis in 1975.

The conflict in Western Sahara continues to displace thousands of Sahrawi refugees and leaves them with few options and relying on humanitarian aid to survive. The forgotten crisis of the Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria has gone on since 1975. The Sahrawi refugees face many challenges in their daily lives, but humanitarian aid has allowed the community of refugees to survive. Until the conflict in Western Sahara resolves, there needs to be a greater awareness of the current refugee situation and continued humanitarian support for the thousands of Sahrawi refugees living in Algeria.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

AI Usage in Agriculture
Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to computer systems that can perform tasks that would normally require humans, including visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and language translation. AI development has exploded within the last several years, and industries are beginning to adopt such systems to increase productivity and address challenges to growth.

The agricultural sector is one industry that is benefitting from the implementation of AI technology, and people are discussing and enforcing new applications for this technology every day. Several companies, such as IBM, FAO and Microsoft, are developing forms of AI that promote sustainable ways to achieve food and nutrition security. Currently, there are three main applications of AI usage in agriculture. 

Present Applications of AI in Agriculture

  1. Agricultural Robots – Some are using robots to perform essential and time-consuming agricultural tasks at a faster pace. For example, robots can harvest produce at a faster rate than human laborers with significantly reduced physical toil. One company that creates such robots is Harvest CROO Robotics. The company’s most recent development is a robot that picks and packs strawberries; it can harvest eight acres of berries a day and replace 30 human laborers per machine. By utilizing these robots, companies can improve productivity and increase yield.
  2. Crop and Soil Monitoring – Using image recognition, AI can use cameras to analyze soil quality and identify possible defects and nutrient deficiencies. Tech startup PEAT has made strides in soil monitoring AI in its development of Plantix, a deep-learning application that correlates foliage patterns with soil defects, diseases or plant pests. This application allows farmers to identify issues with soil quality quickly, allowing them to address any issues before the crop experiences damage.
  3. Predictive Analytics – These AI systems analyze data to make predictions about future outcomes. In agriculture, predictive analytics can improve market recommendations, pest modeling and crop yield predictions. This valuable information provides farmers with more certainty in their product outcomes while also cutting back on resources that they lose due to unforeseen circumstances. Precision Farming is one company that uses data from satellites and drones, such as temperature, precipitation and solar radiation, to predict weather conditions and plant nutrition.

Working Towards Sustainable Development

AI use in agriculture is allowing farmers to be more precise in their crop cultivation, producing a higher crop yield and quality. Agricultural robots optimize human activity and improve working conditions for farmers, while crop and soil monitoring and predictive analytics systems allow farmers to use resources more efficiently. This promotes sustainability in agriculture, as more successful produce outcomes cause farmers to waste fewer resources. 

 These AI systems contribute greatly to soil and water conservation. The Agricultural Stress Index System (ASIS), an indicator developed by FAO, is a computer that uses satellite technology to monitor areas that are highly susceptible to drought and water stress. Drought is the most damaging natural disaster to livelihoods, especially in developing countries. Therefore, predicting and addressing conditions of drought before they cause large-scale damage not only conserves water in times of need but protects human livelihoods. The implication of this is that more farmers, especially in developing countries, will have the means to support themselves and their families.

Fighting Food Insecurity

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, 135 million people were battling food insecurity. Now, the pandemic has exacerbated this problem affecting agricultural yields and livelihoods. The pandemic has impacted regions that normally depend on imports to support their populations the most, including Africa and island states.

Therefore, AI usage in agriculture in these regions can make a significant difference for populations that may already be struggling. FAO’s WaPOR portal monitors water usage through remotely sensed derived data over Africa, allowing for water and land productivity assessments. Saving valuable resources makes a crucial difference for countries that must rely more on domestic materials due to the present circumstances.

In addition, the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) is implementing a tracking unit that is collecting data to expand remote food security monitoring to 40 countries. The map quickly identifies food security emergencies and allows for quick response, helping humanitarians make evidence-based decisions on how and where to address food insecurity that could be damaging a population. By decreasing the time it takes for people to address these issues, the WFP is able to amend food insecurity for more regions in a shorter period of time and prevent them from deteriorating into situations of malnourishment. 

With all the strides that have already occurred in AI and its applications, it is easy to forget that the technology is new and has vast untapped potential. As the industry continues to develop, farming will expand as AI usage in agriculture overcomes more issues challenging greater yield, sustainability and food security.

– Natasha Cornelissen
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in the Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR), a landlocked country in Central Africa, has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world. In fact, it ranks second-to-last on the 2019 Human Development Index. After gaining independence from France in 1960, the country has struggled with weak markets, low productivity, gender inequality and hunger following years of political instability and conflict.

Hunger in the Central African Republic has become a more drastic concern as a result of a 2013 coup, which ousted President François Bozizé and led to a 36% reduction in the country’s GDP. The country’s ongoing civil war, with renewed violence starting in 2017, has displaced people from their homes and has led to rising food prices due to weakened food production. While much of the country is self-sufficient in food crops like cassava, peanuts and millet, the tsetse fly has hindered livestock development.

Natural Impacts on Agriculture

In the Central African Republic, the tsetse fly has contributed to a disease called animal trypanosomiasis, a fatal disease that impacts cattle and wild animals. The tsetse fly is responsible for killing off a significant portion of CAR’s livestock. Tsetse flies also cause sleeping sickness in humans. This can lead to seizures, central nervous system failure, fever and weight loss. With little food or clean water, people with sleeping sickness are often unable to recover from these symptoms.

According to researcher Paterne Mombe in a Wilson Center interview, the government of CAR enacted agricultural policies over the last 50 years that shifted focus towards importing food instead of growing it themselves. This has resulted in underperforming agricultural output. As a result of poor agricultural practices, Mombe stated that this has led to conflict against the government, the destruction of farmland and lack of policy reform. From 2012 to 2016, agricultural production of the country dropped to 65%.

Of the country’s 4.8 million people, 79% live in poverty, caused by not only displacement and conflict but also a below-average agricultural season and COVID-19 prevention measures. Although the rainfall level in 2020 has been generally average, the vegetation index is slightly in deficit due to the low rainfall that occurred between January and February 2020, subsequently leading to increasing prices for agricultural goods. The CDC has deemed the COVID-19 risk in CAR as high, meaning that movement restrictions have contributed to sharp increases in the price of essential food items, diminishing the ability of poor households to purchase food. The IPC predicts that COVID-19 will “have a drastic impact” on the economy and food supply chains.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Central African Republic

According to USAID, there were more than 697,000 IDPs in CAR in March 2020, as well as 616,000 Central African refugees in neighboring countries. Although the Government and 14 armed groups in the country signed a Peace Agreement in 2019, escalating conflict in the northeast of the country displaced another approximately 27,000 people between December 2019 and March 2020. As much of the population relies heavily on farming for their food, those who have experienced displacement have struggled to adjust to new climates or geographies; others have fled to areas prone to high food prices, poor access to clean water and few employment opportunities.

Concerning hunger in the Central African Republic, the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report found that 750,000 people are in a food insecurity emergency (which is a phase below famine), while 1.6 million are in a food insecurity crisis (which is a stage below emergency). Around February 2013, estimates determined that slightly over 20% of the country’s population were in urgent need of assistance, as opposed to over 40% in 2020.

CAR Ranks Unhealthiest Country in the World

The United Nations reported that an estimated 1.3 million people in CAR will require assistance to prevent and treat malnutrition in 2020, which includes nearly 50,000 children under 5 years of age suffering from severe malnutrition. A study by researchers at the University of Seattle in 2016 found that CAR ranks first in unhealthiest countries, due to malnutrition, AIDS and lack of resources. The UN World Food Programme has also noted that around 40% of children aged between 6 months and 5 years are stunted due to a lack of nutrients in their diet. The IPC has projected that some households in northwestern, southeastern and southwestern CAR will require emergency food assistance in the coming months to avoid emergency levels of acute food insecurity.

Response to the Central African Republic’s Hunger Crisis

In response to heightened food insecurity in CAR, the World Food Programme (WFP) and non-governmental organizations, have worked to prevent and treat malnutrition with funding from USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. In collaboration with the European Commission and countries like Germany and South Korea, WFP has provided emergency food and nutrition assistance to conflict-affected people throughout the country. These efforts reached over 920,000 people in 2018.

The WFP has recently scaled up its general food distributions and has conducted a food security program for children under 5 and pregnant and nursing mothers. It has also helped strengthen CAR’s Zero Hunger policies, including doubling producer incomes and adapting food systems to eliminate waste. The WFP also offers rehabilitation programs like Food Assistance for Assets, which provides people with work like repairing roads and bridges. Another program is Purchase for Progress, which helps poor farmers gain access to reliable markets to sell crops at a surplus.

Started in 2007, the organization ACTED provides emergency relief to the most vulnerable and displaced populations. It also works to strengthen the resilience of populations and local authorities. ACTED currently has teams in Ouham Pendé, Ouaka, Basse Kotto, Mbomou, Haut Mbomou and the capital Bangui. Meanwhile, other organizations like Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps and Oxfam International are helping combat food insecurity through food-for-assets activities, food vouchers and local agriculture initiatives.

However, as COVID-19 continues to negatively impact the lives of thousands of civilians in CAR, hunger in the Central African Republic needs increased attention and aid to battle the rise of acute malnutrition in the midst of a civil war. The IPC advises that organizations implement urgent actions targeted at the most critical regions to facilitate access to food, put in place measures to prevent and combat COVID-19’s spread and improve food utilization by facilitating the access of populations to drinking water sources and awareness of hygiene and sanitation protocols.

– Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

lack of tourism
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, international travel has been at a standstill, affecting many developing countries in Africa that rely heavily on the funds that tourism generates. The aftermath of the lack of tourism has resulted in the loss of jobs for locals, decreased funding for conservation and a plummet in economic stability.

Effects on Tourism Revenue

The pandemic has affected people worldwide, especially in impoverished African countries where the tourism industry has flourished, becoming the second-fastest growing tourism industry in the world, noted in 2019. Conservation, safari and other nature-based tourism activities closely relate to each other, creating a large industry for Africa to economically capitalize and grow upon. With the ban on international travel, though, the country has not been able to yield the same amount of tourism profits as in 2018, when it brought in $194.2 billion.

Projections determine that profits will not be nearly as high in 2020 as they were in 2018. In 12 months, predictions are that Africa will lose over $30-$50 million in tourism revenue due to cancelations and rescheduling of international travel. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is detrimental to Africa in 2020 as the U.N. estimated the people have lost 2 million jobs, directly affecting funding for businesses.

Loss of jobs and businesses, directly linked to lack of tourism and COVID-19, has changed the estimates on the poverty line in 2020. While projections determined that poverty in 2020 would decrease to 7.8%, loss of work and an increase in COVID-19 cases has now estimated that the poverty rate will increase from 8.2% in 2019 to 8.6% in 2020.

Poaching on the Rise

Anti-poaching laws went into effect in 2013 to abolish wildlife crimes in an effort to help the wildlife remain. The loss of funding and lack of tourism has affected many industries but poaching specifically has continued to be an ethical issue that Africa’s wildlife conservation and implementation of anti-poaching laws continue to battle.

With tourism on the decline during the pandemic, wildlife conservation efforts and parks have become drastically underfunded and unsupervised, with the termination of income and jobs for many residents. Lack of supervision within the parks has allowed for poachers to find loopholes and become inconspicuous as supervision in the parks decreases due to employment cuts.

With approximately 2 million residents out of work, it was not unexpected for Africa’s wildlife to become the cheapest option for food. In fact, estimates determine that 49 million people will fall below the poverty line due to COVID-19’s effect on employment opportunities.

Solutions and Partners

Though conservationists have a potentially destructive crisis at hand, many organizations will continue to use reserved funds in hopes of donations from private sectors and the assistance of other organizations. Conservation NGO African Parks commits 100% of its donations to 17 other parks who are partnered with the organization. However, due to the decrease in tourism, the park has lost 10% of its budget.

The World Health Organization has set forth the Global Humanitarian Response Plan, which has raised $7.6 billion as of April from funding inside and outside of Global Health Outreach base funding. This funding will allow for the Humanitarian Response Plan to assist not only Africa but 53 other struggling countries, regions and continents globally. In January 2020, the Global Humanitarian Response Plan sent “300 metric tons of humanitarian and medical cargo to 89 countries.” It will continue to assist with meals, water and medical supplies.

Severe food insecurity is not a new issue for residents in African regions: nearly 27.4% of the population was already severely food insecure in 2016. Urban areas will be heavily affected by these shortages. The World Food Program (WFP) is assessing the situation for food shortages. Knowing that many children receive food at school, WFP says it is working to provide “take-home rations” to assist with food insecurity. Furthermore, WFP positively stated that as of April 16, 2020, food assistance and movement remain normal for the time being and it is continuing to deliver food throughout South Africa.

– Allison Lloyd
Photo: Pexels

hunger in NigeriaYahabba Adam, 30, smiled in the Maiduguri city center in Nigeria. Her four children would eat that day. She searched the market, and the $47 (NGN 17,000) provided by the World Food Programme’s (WFP) cash assistance program filled her wallet and heart with hope. Adam is one of 5.1 million Nigerians who are food insecure and in need of assistance. Conflict in the Northeast has heightened food insecurity and hunger in Nigeria, with another 7.7 million people now in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Boko Haram Insurgency and Crisis in the Northeast

In northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram insurgency attacks and other conflicts have displaced two million people. With assistance from Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, the Nigerian military has expelled the group from several northeastern provinces. Boko Haram still holds control over villages and other small territories. It continues to launch deadly attacks, often against women and children.

These attacks have contributed to a decline in agricultural production through the destruction of productive equipment and the displacement of farmers. In 2017, two senior politicians in Nigeria’s Borno state, which is the epicenter of the insurgency, sent a message to Boko Haram. Kashim Shettima and Olusegun Obasanjo donated 36 metric tons of maize, cowpea and rice seed and hundreds of new tractors to farmers. The officials saw an opportunity for the region to move forward in agriculture despite the conflict.

The northeast region of the country has a history of chronic food insecurity. Unfortunately, it is now in what the Famine Early Warning System Network describes as the crisis or emergency stages of acute food insecurity. Almost three million people in the region are food insecure, according to the WFP.

In November 2019, Cadre Harmonisé, a regional group that aims to diminish hunger in Nigeria, released a monthly report. It estimated that 2.6 million people in the Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states were severely food insecure. Without continued humanitarian support, the report projected the number would rise to 3.6 million by mid-2020.

COVID-19 Impact

There have been 35,454 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and 772 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The pandemic is affecting every aspect of Nigeria’s economy.

“Countries like Nigeria are large food importers but are now being doubly hit – by COVID-19 and by plunging oil prices, the country’s main source of revenue, decimating the government’s budget and making food and other imports even more expensive,” said Julie Howard, a senior adviser on global food security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). 

COVID-19 is threatening the already fragile state of hunger in Nigeria. Citizens across the country are going against pandemic regulations to sell small items or beg for food on the streets. In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, the federal government and humanitarian organizations distribute free food to people whose food supply has been cut off by pandemic safety measures. However, many risk stampedes to get the food and some leave empty-handed. 

“We were scrambling for food when my sister with a young baby on her back was pushed away, and she had to give up,” said Folashade Samuel, a resident of the Lagos slums. “The situation is very, very tough. It is very dangerous to scramble for food because you can fall and get trampled on.”

Additionally, lockdowns and border closures within the nation pose a danger to the agricultural sector, which forms the base of the Nigerian economy. For most Nigerians, agriculture serves as the primary source of livelihood, with the sector employing 36.5% of the entire labor force. More than 30 million naira (about $77,500) had been lost as of May 2020 in the yam markets alone because of the pandemic lockdowns.

In order to combat the pandemic’s adverse effects on agriculture, the Nigerian government created a task force. This task force is creating ID cards to allow agricultural workers to move freely. The agriculture ministry and central bank are working to provide support through locally produced fertilizers and financial expansion for farmers.

What is Being Done?

This June, the Nigerian government launched a seed support initiative in partnership with a group of agricultural research institutes and programs. The initiative worked to deliver improved seeds to farmers in 13 states in order to lessen the harmful impact of the pandemic on hunger in Nigeria.

In Adam’s home city, Maiduguri, the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) received presidential clearance to continue emergency operations, which include delivering food. The WFP manages the UNHAS. While its operations are limited, this humanitarian aid provides support similar to the $47 Adam carried that day in the market.

Along with managing UNHAS, the WFP distributed food and cash assistance to 1.2 million Nigerians in 2017 and 2018. During the pandemic, the WFP has continued its outreach and efforts to curb hunger in Nigeria, assisting 632,500 people with food and nutritional needs. Because schools often provide a much-needed source of food for children, the WFP is also supporting the government in adjusting the national home-grown school feeding programme to reach nine million children while schools are closed.

Many people in Nigeria face hunger and are in need of help. The Boko Haram Insurgency and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the problem of food insecurity in the country. As a result, the government and outside organizations are stepping in to help those in need and work to decrease hunger in Nigeria. 

– Olivia du Bois
Photo: Flickr