UN Food Agencies warn of rising levels of acute hunger with potential risk of famine
by Fews Net, Reliefweb, WFP, IPC, agencies
20 Nov. 2020
WFP Global Update on COVID-19: Growing Needs, Response to Date and What’s to Come in 2021
WFP estimates that 271.8 million people in countries where it operates are acutely food insecure - or directly at-risk of becoming so - due to the aggravating effect the protracted COVID-19 crisis is having in areas affected by conflict, socio-economic downturn, natural hazards, climate change and pests. The latest estimate marks an increase in acute food insecurity from the earlier June projection. This November update of WFP's Global Response Plan to COVID-19 takes stock of efforts by regional bureaux and country offices to continue to sustain and scale-up operations to assist vulnerable communities and to support governments in their health and hunger response.
Food security partners still do not have the funding required to implement operations at the level required to prevent catastrophe. Needs-based plans developed by WFP country offices for the next six months stand at USS 7.7 billion through April 2021, half of which is still to be resourced:
6 Nov. 2020
UN Food Agencies warn of rising levels of acute hunger with potential risk of famine in four hotspots
The world has been put on a heightened famine alert with a new report by two United Nations agencies that contains a stark warning; four countries contain areas that could soon slip into famine if conditions there undergo “any further deterioration over the coming months”. These are Burkina Faso in West Africa’s Sahel region, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.
The Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots – issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) – describes a toxic combination of conflict, economic decline, climate extremes and the COVID-19 pandemic that is driving people further into the emergency phase of food insecurity.
Parts of the population in the four hotspots of highest concern are already experiencing a critical hunger situation, with the report warning that escalations in conflict as well as a further reduction in humanitarian access could lead to a risk of famine.
But these four countries are far from being the only red flag on a world map that shows that acute food insecurity levels are reaching new highs globally, driven by a combination of factors, the report notes. Another 16 countries are at high risk of rising levels of acute hunger.
The aim of the Hotspots report is to inform urgent action that can be taken now to avoid a major emergency – or series of emergencies – in three to six months from today. How the situation evolves in the highest risk countries will depend on conflict dynamics, food prices, and the myriad impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food systems, rainfall and harvest outcomes, humanitarian access, and the readiness of donors to continue funding humanitarian operations.
“This report is a clear call to urgent action,” said Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience. “We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger. We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”
“We are at a catastrophic turning point. Once again, we face the risk of famine in four different parts of the world at the same time. When we declare a famine it means many lives have already been lost. If we wait to find that out for sure, people are already dead,” said Margot van der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies.
“In 2011, Somalia suffered a famine that killed 260,000 people. The famine was declared in July, but most people had already died by May. We cannot let this happen again. We have a stark choice; urgent action today, or unconscionable loss of life tomorrow,” she warned.
All told, the joint report points to a total of 20 countries and contexts that are at “further risk of deterioration of acute food insecurity”, with key drivers of hunger including expansion and intensification of violence, economic crises exacerbated by COVID-19 socioeconomic impact, weather extremes, transboundary threats like the Desert Locust and a lack of humanitarian access.
It notes that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo there are 22 million people now estimated to be acutely food insecure - the highest number ever registered for a single country. Burkina Faso has registered the biggest increase with the numbers of desperately hungry people almost tripling compared to 2019, driven by increasing conflict, displacement and COVID-related impacts on employment and food access.
The situation is also dire in Yemen, where the existing food insecurity combined with conflict and a deepening economic crisis could lead to a further deterioration of an already critical food security situation.
Catastrophe/famine is the most severe of five phases used by the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) system to chart escalating degrees of food insecurity. When this extreme phase is declared, it means that people have already started dying from starvation. The Hotspots report is saying that, unless urgent action is now taken, the world could experience its first outbreak of famine since it was last declared in 2017 in parts of South Sudan.
This new report was developed under the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) – an alliance of humanitarian and development actors launched in 2016 by the European Union, FAO and WFP to tackle the root causes of food crises through shared analysis and knowledge, strengthened coordination in evidence-based responses, and collective efforts across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus.
http://reliefweb.int/report/burkina-faso/un-food-agencies-warn-rising-levels-acute-hunger-potential-risk-famine-four http://insight.wfp.org/risk-of-famine-in-four-countries-warns-un-agencies-report-d411a03b0600 http://www.wfp.org/publications/fao-wfp-early-warning-analysis-acute-food-insecurity-hotspots-november-2020 http://www.fao.org/3/cb1907en/CB1907EN.pdf http://www.fightfoodcrises.net/
17 Sep. 2020
Remarks by UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley to UN Security Council session on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (Segment on food security risks in DRC, Yemen, Northeast Nigeria and South Sudan):
Five months ago, I warned the UN Security Council the world stood on the brink of a hunger pandemic. A toxic combination of conflict, climate change and COVID-19, threatened to push 270 million people to the brink of starvation. Famine was real. It’s a terrifying possibility in up to three dozen countries if we don’t act.
In April, with our donors’ help, the global humanitarian community launched a unprecedented global fightback against the Coronavirus. Along with our partners, WFP is going all-out to reach as many as 138 million people this year – the biggest scale-up in our history. Already, in the first six months of 2020, we’ve reached 85 million people.
WFP is adapting and innovating to meet the unique demands of the pandemic. Launching new food and cash programmes to support the hungry in urban areas. Supporting over 50 governments to scale up their safety nets and social protection programmes for the most vulnerable. Getting nutritious food to millions of school children shut out of the classroom during lockdown.
Every day, we are succeeding in keeping people alive and avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe. But we’re not out of the woods. This fight is far, far, far from over – the 270 million people marching toward the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever.
We’re doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe. And if it does, it will overwhelm nations and communities already weakened by years of conflict and instability.
This Council made a historic decision when it endorsed Resolution 2417 and condemned the human cost of conflict paid in suffering and hunger. The resolution called for effective early warning systems and, once more, I am here with my colleagues to sound the alarm.
The global hunger crisis caused by conflict, and now compounded by COVID-19, is moving into a new and dangerous phase – especially in nations already scarred by violence. The threat of famine is looming again, so we have to step up, not step back. Quite frankly, 2021 will be a make-or-break year.
I am truly worried about what will happen next year. I urge you – don’t walk away from our commitment to humanitarian assistance. Don’t turn your backs on the world’s hungriest people.
As COVID-19 pushed countries everywhere to lock down, the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs have been destroyed, and remittances have collapsed. The impact has been felt hardest by the 2 billion people who work in the informal economy around the world - mainly in middle and low-income countries.
Already only one day’s work away from going hungry, in other words living hand to mouth. You and I have food in the pantry in a lockdown. We have enough food for two or three weeks. These people don’t have that luxury. If they miss a day’s wages, they miss a day’s worth of food and their children suffer.
They don’t have the money to buy their daily bread in those circumstances. This inevitably creates a risk of rising social tensions and instability.
It is critically important we balance sensible measures to contain the spread of the virus, with the need to keep borders open and supply chains going and trade flows moving. We also have to be vigilant and guard against unintended consequences, which could hit the poorest people the hardest.
In fact, in the 80-odd countries that we’re in, we’re working with the presidents, the prime ministers, the ministers of government, literally on an hourly basis, dealing with issues that are popping up because of quarantines and lockdowns, distribution points. We’re all learning from this and making headway.
But let me just give you a couple of examples, because a lot of people thought that the virus would be even more deadly in Africa. But it is definitely impacting Africa. We’re not out of the woods yet. And the good news is it hasn’t been as deadly but it has been devastating in other ways.
For example, the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine has analyzed the closure of vaccination clinics in Africa during lockdown. It calculated that, for every COVID-19 death prevented, as many as 80 children may die due to a lack of routine immunizations.
There is a grave danger that many more people will die from the broader economic and social consequences of COVID-19 than from the virus itself, especially in Africa. And the last thing we need is to have the cure be worse than the disease itself.
Your continued support for humanitarian programmes is critical right now. It’s a matter of life and death - literally. For millions of people in the countries being discussed today. And for many millions more in the other countries edging closer to the brink of starvation.
We know that, already, there are 30 million people who rely solely on WFP for their survival. That’s the only food they get. If they don’t get the food we provide, the die.
Let me turn to the countries on today’s agenda. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, conflict and instability had already forced 15.5 million people into crisis levels of food insecurity. These are people on the brink of starvation.
The latest assessment indicates that the upsurge in violence, coupled with COVID-19, has sent this total sky-rocketing to nearly 22 million people, an increase of 6.5 million people. And I should warn you these numbers assume WFP is able to maintain current levels of food assistance. If we are forced to scale back operations, the outlook is even worse.
In Yemen, the world’s worst catastrophe, worst human disaster, it continues… years of conflict-induced hunger and now the COVID-19 pandemic. 20 million people are already in crisis due to war, a collapsed economy and currency devaluation, crippling food prices and the destruction of public infrastructure. We believe a further 3 million may now face starvation due to the virus.
Because of lack of funding, 8.5 million of our beneficiaries in Yemen only receive assistance now every other month. We will be forced to cut rations for the remaining 4.5 million by December if funds do not increase. You can only imagine the impact that will have on the Yemeni people.
The decision by the Ansar Allah authorities to close Sana’a International Airport last week has made an already impossible situation worse. As the only airport in northern Yemen, it is a critical access point for humanitarian staff. The inability to move people in and out will hamper our efforts to stave off famine.
The alarm bells in Yemen are ringing loud and clear, and the world needs to open its eyes to the Yemeni people’s desperate plight before famine takes hold. And that famine is knocking on the door right before our eyes.
Nigeria: COVID-19 is also forcing more people into food insecurity. Analysis shows measures imposed to contain the virus reduced incomes in 80 percent of households. You can imagine the devastation with that alone.
In the northeast of the country, 4.3 million people are food insecure, up by 600,000 largely due to COVID-19. While in the large urban area of Kano, the number of food insecure people during that lockdown period from March to June went from 568,000 to 1.5 million people – an increase of 1 million people. Very troubling.
South Sudan: The outlook there is similarly worrying, where even before the pandemic, 6.5 million people were expected to face severe food insecurity at the height of the lean season, made worse by the violence in Jonglei State in recent months. This has resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, a large number of abducted women and children, and widespread loss of livestock and livelihoods. In addition, virus outbreaks in urban areas such as Juba could put as many as another 1.6 million people at risk of starvation.
Finally, even though it is not on today’s agenda, I also want to highlight the disaster unfolding in Burkina Faso, driven by the upsurge in violence. The number of people facing crisis levels of hunger has tripled to 3.3 million people, as COVID compounds the situation…displacement, security and access problems. For 11,000 of these people living in the northern provinces, famine is knocking on the door as we speak.
We know what we need to do. We have made huge strides forward in spotting the early warning signs of famine, in understanding its causes and consequences. But, tragically, we have seen this story play out too many times before.
The world stands by until it is too late, while hunger kills, it stokes community tensions, fuels conflict and instability, and forces families from their homes.
I recently learned that, in Latin America, hungry families have started hanging white flags outside their houses to show they need help. And there are a lot of them: 17.1 million severely food insecure people today, compared with 4.5 million only six or seven months ago.
A white flag is the sign of surrender - of giving up. Well, we CANNOT and we MUST NOT surrender, or tell ourselves there is nothing we can do, because millions of people around the world desperately need our help.
Truth is, we are all out of excuses for failing to act - swiftly and decisively - while children, women and men starve to death. Today, as humanitarians, we are here to warn you of the pressures caused by conflict and COVID-19. We must act and we must act before the dam bursts.
We need $4.9 billion to feed, for one year, all 30 million people who will die without WFP’s assistance.
It’s time for the private sector to step up. Worldwide, there are over 2,000 billionaires with a net worth of $8 trillion. In my home country, the USA, there are 12 individuals alone worth $1 trillion. In fact, reports state that three of them made billions upon billions during COVID! I am not opposed to people making money, but humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes.
It’s time for those who have the most to step up, to help those who have the least in this extraordinary time in world history. To show you truly love your neighbour. The world needs you right now and it’s time to do the right thing.
Briefing to the Security Council by Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator:
Two years ago, this Council passed Resolution 2417, asking that you be swiftly informed of the risk of conflict-induced famine and wide-spread food insecurity. And so I join you today, to highlight rising food insecurity and the risk of famine in several countries.
Famines have existed throughout human history, and almost every country has suffered them. But, remarkably, the world got much better at preventing them in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Famines are now less frequentand less lethal for three main reasons. First, agricultural output and productivity has expanded. Food has become more available and more affordable to millions of people.
Second, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen significantly and their purchasing power has increased.
In recent decades, the extreme poverty rate dropped fromn early 36 percentof the global population in 1990 to 10 percentin 2015. And thirdly, when the threat of famine has arisen, countries and organizations have set aside their differences and shared knowledge and resources to avert the crises through decisive action.
Before COVID-19, which may unfortunately reverse previous gains, we had got to the point where the risk of famines was confined to places in conflict.
That is one of the reasons why Resolution 2417 is so important. It explicitly recognized the links between armed conflict, food insecurity and the threat of famine. And those links are clear. Conflict disrupts all aspects of life. Civilians are injured and killed. They are drivenfrom their homes, losing land and livelihoods.
Their farms, food supplies, livestock, infrastructure, and public services are damaged or destroyed. That drives up the price of food and other basic necessities like water and fuel.
Over time, conflict tears apart the social fabric, undermines public institutions and erodes economic growth and development. The human and economic cost is astronomical. In the ten most affected countries, the average costof conflict is estimated at around 40 per cent of GDP.
And we can now see that COVID-19 is making hunger much worse. We know from the 2019 report of the Global Network Against Food Crises that 135 million people were facing acute food insecurity even before COVID-19. And now David and his colleagues at the World Food Programme project that the number of people suffering from acute hunger will almost double this year, to 270 million people.
In the same vein, the World Bank predicts that the number of people in extreme poverty is set to rise for the first time since the 1990s. As always, the most vulnerable pay the biggest price--women, children, the disabled and the elderly.
I briefed you earlier in the week on two of them, South Sudan and Yemen. So I would like just to touch briefly on three other places.
I am particularly concerned about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nearly 22million people there are now acutely food insecure,the highest number in the world-a result of COVID-19 compounding the impact of decades of conflict. In north-east Nigeria, as we told you, violence by extremist non-state armed groups is largely responsible for driving up humanitarian need.
I am pleased to report we have had constructive engagement in recent days with the Nigerian authorities, and the Government has taken some important steps to improve access to people in need, which we look forward to building on further.
In the Sahel, an upsurge in violence and armed group attacks has forcibly displaced more than a million people, most of whom are dependent on agriculture. In total, some 14 million people are experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity – the highest figures for adecade. Just in Burkina Faso, 3.3 million people are now acutely food-insecure, and famine conditions are growing.
As I told you on 9 September, the pandemic is dramatically increasing wider humanitarian need. Things are going to get worse. I don’t think we have seen the peak of the pandemic yet, but the indirect impact is already deepening poverty, destroying livelihoods, undermining education, disrupting immunization, and exacerbating food insecurity, fragility and violence.
Humanitarian aid helps to avert food insecurity. And humanitarian workers are committed to staying and delivering. But they face unacceptable risks. This year more than 200 humanitarian workers have been attacked, including dozens in countries I have mentioned today.
Humanitarian operations face repeated attacks and other forms of obstruction on movement and access. International humanitarian law is an important line of defense against food insecurity in conflict. Starvation as a method of warfare is prohibited, as is the destruction of objects that are indispensable to civilians’ survival.
The problem is that too many people don’t comply with the law. Parties must allow and facilitate humanitarian access and protect aid workers and assets.
Within the humanitarian system, we are doing what we can to meet growing needs. But the humanitarian agencies are in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the needs, and that will get worse in the absence of a lot more financial help.
So there are concrete measures the Council and Member States more widely can take:
First, press for peaceful and negotiated political solutions to bring armed conflicts to an end. Second, ensure the parties to conflict respect international humanitarian law. And third, mitigate the economic impact of armed conflict and related violence, including by mobilizing international financial institutions.
And you know most important of all, scale up support for humanitarian operations, and take bigger and more ambitious steps to support the economies of countries facing severe, large-scale hunger.
Growing food insecurity is one of the major consequences of COVID-19. History proves that even in the midst of conflict, famine can be prevented. In order to prevent it, we must act. And we have to act in time to make a difference. Unfortunately, in too many places, time is now running out.
Urgent action needed to avert the risk of famine in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen, FAO Director-General tells UN Security Council:
The FAO Director-General has warned the United Nations Security Council that Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen were at risk of a looming famine and appealed for an urgent and united humanitarian response to save lives and livelihoods.
"Tragically, there are many more situations where conflict and instability, now also exacerbated by COVID 19, are drivers for more serious hunger and acute food insecurity. This is particularly visible in areas where conflict and other factors such as economic turbulence, and extreme weather, are already driving people into poverty and hunger," he said.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on conflict and hunger, he also underscored the dire situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.
"Worldwide, those hardest hit include the urban poor, informal workers and pastoral communities as well as people who are already particularly vulnerable - children, women, the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities," the FAO Director-General said.
"First, we need fast aid to stop hunger, we need political willingness and we need collective actions, as the forecasts for food security in 2020 continue to worsen," he added.
Qu expressed deep concern about the latest data on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which shows that some 21.8 million people are unable to get enough food on a daily basis. he said this was "the highest number of people experiencing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity ever recorded in a single country".
In Yemen, he pointed out that Desert Locusts have further threatened food availability. "FAO urges all those concerned to work towards granting access for control operations to prevent the pest from further worsening the deteriorating situation in Yemen and beyond," he said.
He also expressed "great alarm" about the worsening situation in Burkina Faso, where the number of people experiencing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity has almost tripled.
In northern Nigeria, between June and August 2020, the number of people in crisis or facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity increased by 73 percent compared to the 2019 peak figure and reached almost 8.7 million, he said.
He noted that in Somalia, 3.5 million people face crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity between July and September 2020. This increase of 67 percent compared to the 2019 peak is due to the triple shocks experienced this year - COVID-19, floods and the desert locust upsurge.
"While much progress has been made in controlling the locusts, FAO is making every effort to sustain control operations," the Director-General said.
In Sudan, the number of people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance has risen by 64 percent, between June and September 2020, reaching around 9.6 million people, the highest level ever recorded in the country, with serious floods further exacerbating the situation.
In his address to the Security Council, the FAO Director-General called for a "package of solutions" to be put in place in order to combat acute food insecurity effectively. He said humanitarian-development-peace actions must be well coordinated and complementary and that they need to be mutually reinforcing across global, regional, national and local levels.
"Humanitarian actors can provide first aid. Agricultural food systems can play a more sustainable function for better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life," he said.
"More lasting peace can be achieved, through good policies and investment in agriculture and rural development, especially in conflict areas," he said.
He said the Security Council can play a pivotal role in addressing the threat of conflict induced acute food insecurity by promoting dialogue and seeking solutions to conflict and violence.
This would allow for urgent life-saving and livelihood-saving operations to be scaled up and better integrated humanitarian and development responses to be delivered that address the multiple drivers of food insecurity.
http://www.wfp.org/news/wfp-chief-warns-grave-dangers-economic-impact-coronavirus-millions-are-pushed-further-hunger http://reliefweb.int/report/world/wfp-global-response-covid-19-september-2020 http://bit.ly/2RzlLrG http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1308236/icode/ http://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/05/world/africa/coronavirus-famine-warning-.html http://reliefweb.int/report/world/under-secretary-general-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-mark-lowcock-remarks-global http://www.ipcinfo.org/ipc-country-analysis/results/en/ http://bit.ly/30XbgnH http://fews.net/global/alert/july-31-2020 http://fews.net/covid-19-pandemic-impacts-food-security http://www.wfp.org/emergencies
* FAO/WFP Analysis - Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots (July 2020): http://bit.ly/30XbgnH
* Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analyses of food insecurity and malnutrition situations: http://www.ipcinfo.org/ipc-country-analysis/results/en/
Visit the related web page
Over 150 million more children to live in poor households by the end of the year
by Global Coalition to End Child Poverty, agencies
150 million additional children plunged into poverty due to COVID-19, reports UNICEF, Save the Children
New analysis reveals the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water – has increased by 15 per cent since the start of the pandemic.
The number of children living in multidimensional poverty has soared to approximately 1.2 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new UNICEF and Save the Children analysis. This is a 15 per cent increase in the number of children living in deprivation in low- and middle-income countries, or an additional 150 million children since the pandemic hit earlier this year.
The multidimensional poverty analysis uses data on access to education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water from more than 70 countries. It highlights that around 45 per cent of children were severely deprived of at least one of these critical needs in the countries analyzed before the pandemic.
Although the analysis paints a dire picture already, UNICEF warns the situation will likely worsen in the months to come.
“COVID-19 and the lockdown measures imposed to prevent its spread have pushed millions of children deeper into poverty,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Families on the cusp of escaping poverty have been pulled back in, while others are experiencing levels of deprivation they have never seen before. Most concerningly, we are closer to the beginning of this crisis than its end.”
The report notes that child poverty is much more than a monetary value. Although measures of monetary poverty such as household income are important, they provide only a partial view of the plight of children living in poverty. To understand the full extent of child poverty, all potential deprivations must be analysed directly. This also points to the need to implement multi-sectoral policies addressing health, education, nutrition, water and sanitation and housing deprivations to end multidimensional poverty.
Social protection, inclusive fiscal policies, investments in social services, and employment and labor market interventions to support families are critical to lifting children out of poverty and preventing further devastation.
This includes expanding access to quality health care and providing the tools and technology needed for children to continue their education remotely; and investing in family-friendly policies such as paid leave and child care.
“This pandemic has already caused the biggest global education emergency in history, and the increase in poverty will make it very hard for the most vulnerable children and their families to make up for the loss”, said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children. “Children who lose out on education are more likely to be forced into child labour or early marriage and be trapped in a cycle of poverty for years to come. We cannot afford to let a whole generation of children become victims of this pandemic. National governments and the international community must step up to soften the blow.”
There are not only more children experiencing poverty than before, the poorest children are getting poorer as well, the report notes.
“We must act now to prevent additional children from being deprived in basic life needs like school, medicine, food, water and shelter,” said Fore. “Governments must prioritize the most marginalized children and their families through rapid expansion of social protection systems including cash transfers and child benefits, remote learning opportunities, healthcare services and school feeding. Making these critical investments now can help countries to prepare for future shocks.”
Economic fallout from COVID-19 tightens its grip on children, by David Stewart, Sola Engilbertsdottir.
“Poverty is when you don’t have any money. Because of a lack of money, children don’t have a chance to develop. They may not have a good profession or a good foundation for life.” This is how Marieta and Gor from Armenia recently described the impact of poverty.
Whether it’s the instant loss of income that so many parents face as a result of COVID-19 or the austerity measures that may follow plummeting GDP, children will bear the brunt of this pandemic long after the virus itself has been eradicated.
Projections change daily, with some predictions that the recession that follows COVID-19 will be the worst global crisis since World War II. As a result, up to 106 million more children could live in poor households by the end of the year, according to new projections from UNICEF and Save the Children.
This is on top of the 385 million children living in extreme poverty before COVID-19 hit, and the 663 million children living in multidimensional poverty, meaning monetary poverty combined with poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, or exposure to environmental hazards, disempowerment or the threat of violence.
As these stark economic predictions manifest, we will witness global poverty increasing. What deepens the tragedy is that children are disproportionately affected by poverty. Not only are they twice as likely to live in poverty than adults, they are also more forcefully affected by its consequences.
Children living in poverty are less likely to go to school, more likely to be forced into child labor, more likely to be married as children, and less likely to access nutritious food and quality healthcare.
“We are worried that our children won’t have enough to eat,” said Siriphon Yampikul, of Thailand. “We parents can go without food, that is OK. But our children cannot go without.”
The threat to children is not limited to the near term. The recovery phase will take years, especially in low- and middle-income countries where there is limited capacity to mitigate the impact of the economic slowdown.
In Sub-Saharan Africa for instance, temporary measures were introduced and existing programmes were scaled up following the 2008 crisis – but were constrained by weak social protection systems, low pre-existing coverage, and decreased revenues.
And you don’t need to look too far back in history to know that when a crisis hits, budget cuts often follow an initial spike in government spending on the response. These austerity measures produce devastating results for children. If the response to COVID-19 follows the same pattern, we will see how unequally and cruelly economic destruction is distributed.
Families on the cusp of escaping intergenerational cycles of poverty will be flung back in. In East Asia and the Pacific, for example, the virus is expected to keep almost 24 million people in poverty who would otherwise have escaped.
And for children living in countries already affected by conflict, fragility, and violence, the impact of this crisis will add to an already precarious situation, increasing further risks of instability.
Although past crises offer a grim picture of what’s to come, they also provide valuable insight into how we might mitigate the impact. UNICEF works to support governments and partners in more than 100 countries to design and implement social protection systems and measures such as cash transfers, which can play a major role in cushioning the impact of financial crises on households with children.
Currently, 2 out of 3 children have no access to any child or family benefits. Rapidly expanding these programmes to reach every child is a critical investment not just in children and families, but also in a world better prepared for future shocks.
As one child in Trinidad said: “Poverty upsets my community. It affects you and me.”
In addition to expansion of coverage, social protection responses must consider children’s specific needs and vulnerabilities, including those related to gender and disability.
There are mounting calls for debt relief to support low and middle-income countries. In countries everywhere, however, the scale of the solution has to match the scale of the problem.
Governments must take decisive action to prevent child poverty from deepening and inequality from worsening within and across countries. They must rapidly extend cash transfer programmes to reach every child, invest in family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and accessible, affordable childcare, and expand access to healthcare and other public services.
In the medium and longer term, they will need to strengthen and expand shock responsive social protection systems to make children, communities and economies more resilient.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 are without precedent in modern history. Unprecedented action to protect children and their families from the worst effects should be a fundamental yardstick for success.
* David Stewart is Chief of Child Poverty and Social Protection at UNICEF, and Sola Engilbertsdottir is a Policy Specialist at UNICEF.
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Global Coalition to End Child Poverty: A Call to Action for governments to expand children’s access to Child-Sensitive Social Protection in the wake of COVID-19
COVID-19 threatens to push millions more children into poverty and deprivation across the world, risking lasting negative impacts on them and wider society. While governments have been putting in place short-term social protection measures to protect their citizens from the immediate economic impacts of the pandemic, this Call to Action explains why governments must maintain and scale up their investments in child-focused and child-sensitive social protection to avoid failing an entire future generation.
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