People's Stories Human Rights Today

The COVID-19 pandemic is a multiplier of vulnerability
by World Food Programme, agencies
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.
29 Sep. 2020
In April, WFP estimated that 270 million people will become acutely food insecure in the countries of WFP presence, by the end of 2020 if no action is taken, an 82 percent increase compared to the number of acutely food insecure pre-COVID. This projection has not changed six months into the crisis.
The pandemic is having and will continue to have a huge and lasting negative effect on the global economy; 2020 and 2021 will be lost years in terms of growth, and the global economy is expected to recover to pre-coronavirus levels only in 2022. This global forecast, however, masks large disparities between countries.
Some members of the G7 and BRICS groupings are predicted to recover faster, whereas others will take up to 2024 to return to pre-coronavirus levels of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
A country’s ability to deploy the policy response needed to prevent a devastating human toll and long-lasting impact on livelihoods depends critically on debt relief, grants, and concessional financing from the international community.
Island economies that rely heavily on tourism and economies that are driven by oil exports are also likely to face long-lasting challenges.
The impact of economic decline on food security and nutrition in many low- and middle-income countries will likely be severe and protracted through 2021 and possibly beyond.
Yet again, it is the poorer countries and the most vulnerable households that are disproportionally affected as many find their debt burdens unpayable at a time when they are facing the quadruple blow of a global recession, weaker currencies, higher interest costs and a drop in remittances sent home from workers in foreign nations.
In many regions, migrant labourers are returning to their home countries due to loss of employment. Many are taking enormous risks along migration routes, resulting in hundreds of thousands of migrants stranded at border areas, confined in institutional quarantine and isolation facilities or abandoned in perilous situations by smugglers.
Typically, migrants are also excluded from national social safety nets even when those exist, which makes them especially vulnerable. Examples of these situations are West African migrants stranded in desert areas near the borders with Algeria and Libya, extremely vulnerable migrants in detention centres in Libya, and Horn of Africa migrants stranded in Yemen.
Migrants have also seen their condition worsen in the Latin America and the Caribbean region where the second biggest migration crisis is still unfolding. At present out of the estimated 3 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, 2.3 million are food insecure (WFP survey August 2020).
The steep decline towards greater vulnerability has been particularly acute among workers who do not have the option of working from home.
Income losses also appear to have been uneven across genders, with women among lower-income groups bearing a larger brunt of the impact in some countries.
Of the approximately 2 billion informally employed workers worldwide, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates close to 80 percent have been significantly affected. Prospects of long-lasting negative consequences for livelihoods, job security, and inequality have grown more daunting.
Pre-existing gender gaps and inequalities are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, whose impact on women and girls is disproportionately high. Women make up the larger proportion of people living in poverty, and tend to hold lower paying, less secure jobs.
With the pandemic, formal employment and informal work opportunities for women have significantly declined, while their care burden (especially childcare and that of elderly people) has increased due to the effects of lockdowns and movement restrictions. Gender-based violence is reported to have increased exponentially during lockdowns, while protection, support to survivors, and health services including reproductive health were reduced or became harder to access.
The economic consequences of the crisis are having a direct impact on people’s ability to access food. The cost of a basic food basket increased by more than 10 percent on top of reduced incomes in twenty countries during the second quarter compared to the first in 2020, namely Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan and Thailand.
Food prices are exceptionally high in many countries such as Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Zimbabwe.
As the COVID-19 economic fallout continues to bite, the political and security implications of the pandemic are also surfacing along with the potential to aggravate food insecurity.
The pandemic and impact of measures to control its spread are placing a severe strain on political stability in a wide array of countries, particularly where governments are fragile, in transition, or with peace talks or agreements on-going.
Constitutional reforms have been disrupted and electoral processes affected with elections postponed in tens of countries this year because of the pandemic.In several countries, the volatility raised political tensions and potential for destabilisation.
According to UNHCR, some 80 percent of protection clusters report escalating conflict and/or political instability since the beginning of the pandemic. This is triggering new displacements, reducing safe access to vital health and sanitation services and impeding lifesaving protection and humanitarian services.
In conflict-affected areas, the pandemic is an added drain on the resources and capacity of government and security forces. This is also the case with international peacekeeping efforts. This environment is allowing non-state armed groups, criminals and violent extremists to exploit security gaps and operate more freely, leading to upticks in violence, displacements, market disruptions and access constraints.
An example of this is the escalation of violence in the region of Cabo Delgado in Northern Mozambique and Burkina Faso.
In addition, the security of humanitarian staff is a growing concern. The Islamic State has recently condoned the targeting of humanitarians, while other armed groups and criminals have demonstrated their intent to target personnel, effectively hampering humanitarian delivery.
Although conflict and insecurity remain the main drivers of hunger, the added dimension of COVID-19 is exacerbating the ability of affected communities to cope.
A drastic reduction of livelihood opportunities, employment and income, in addition to natural hazards such as cyclones, hurricanes, flooding and pests are pushing communities further into desperate circumstances.
Restrictions on travel and movement of goods, quarantine measures and the corresponding economic fallout as a result of the pandemic are deepening the impact.
The latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) assessments show dramatic increases in acute food insecurity across the globe.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, nearly 22 million people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity.
Burkina Faso has seen a tripling in the number of people falling into acute food insecurity as compared to the same period in 2019.
In these countries as well as Yemen, South Sudan, the Sahel region of West Africa and northeastern Nigeria, COVID-19 has combined with conflict and climate shocks as a key driver of hunger.
The pandemic has ushered hunger into the lives of more urban populations while placing the vulnerable, such as refugees, war torn communities and those living at the sharp end of climate change at higher risk of starvation.
In Latin America, COVID-19 has caused the worst recession in a century. Based on a WFP assessment in August 2020, severe food insecurity had increased by 400 percent, rising from 4.3 million people in January to over 17 million in August 2020.
Emerging evidence from latest food security analyses and assessments show that COVID-19 has had a compounding effect on pre-existing vulnerabilities and stressors.
These developments are indicative of the challenges in coping with the consequences of the pandemic and underline the need for WFP and partners to step up and continue to respond at scale.
* WFP Global Response to COVID-19 report:

Visit the related web page

Re-build our economies in a way that works for everyone
by Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP)
Oct. 2020
Statement for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2020
Today, 17 October 2020 – On the International day for the eradication of poverty the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) expresses solidarity with hundreds of millions of people suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that 500 million more people will further slide into poverty due to the economic lockdowns imposed to contain the spread of the virus.
Communities worldwide are being pushed deeper into poverty, precarious existence and inequalities – with a massive loss of paid- and self-employment and livelihoods as well as severely limited access to food, water and sanitation, adequate housing, education, health services and other basic needs.
Women and children suffer the worst effects of the pandemic. According to UN Women, 243 million women and girls globally have been subjected to sexual and/or violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. With the pandemic, emerging data show the cases, particularly domestic violence, have increased by as much as 30% in countries like France and Singapore.
In Latin America and the Caribbean it is estimated that the number of people who live in poverty will increase from 185,9 to 219,1 million and people living in extreme poverty will increase from 67.5 million to 90.7 million. Inequalities measured by the Gini coefficient have increased by 4,9 percentage points in 2020 compared to 2019 in the region.
In the meantime the profit of the biggest companies have gone up. The GAFA firms (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) and Microsoft are expected to make 46 billion USD more profit in 2020 than before the pandemic. Most of the profit is paid to their shareholders – while taxes are avoided. Billionaires wealth has increased by 27% during the pandemic.
Last September, parallel to the UNGA, GCAP national coalitions in 19 countries around the world organized People’s Assemblies to provide an opportunity for the people to analyse the situation and to develop demands for solutions. Women’s organisations, youth, elderly people, persons with disabilities, persons discriminated by work and descent pointed out that apart from poverty and inequality – health, food security and the international debt crisis are the major concerns.
Governments in many countries are unable to support their people and face the crisis due to debt payments. Over US$300 billion is being spent annually by the Global South for Public External Debt payments to bilateral and multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and IMF, private banks, speculators, and investors in government bonds and securities. The debt problem is compounded by illicit financial flows, also in the billions of dollars.
The main response to the crisis, to provide the urgent liquidity needed to fund public services and social protection, the only support people have in defense against COVID-19, has been the promotion of a new debt wave, under non-concessional terms for most developing countries.
Under this landscape, for many developing countries, recovery will be long and slow. It is crucial that global measures to face the crisis are more ambitious and address a permanent systemic change for an inclusive recovery.
For these reasons, GCAP joined a broad global civil society movement calling for the unconditional cancelation of public external debts – at least for the next four years.
The struggle against poverty, inequalities and injustice has become more challenging. GCAP was born 15 years ago, with the late President Nelson Mandela sounding out the first call to stand up against poverty together for equality.
We shall continue to raise the voices of the people, putting the most vulnerable first and working to build together a better, just and sustainable world for all.
July 18th, 2020
Joint letter to G20 governments from civil society organizations: Dear G20 Finance Ministers, Central Bank Governors, and Heads of State.
In the upcoming meetings of the G20, the European Council and other national and international fora, you will be discussing how to respond to the pandemic and the deepening economic crisis.
Trillions of dollars of public money are being put on the table, and sweeping plans are being discussed – the decisions taken now by governments, financial institutions, regulators and investors will shape our world for decades to come.
The covid-19 pandemic is teaching us a lesson about the importance of care, equity and balance. The health crisis is hitting virtually every country and community. While the virus does not discriminate based on race, gender or class, human systems do. As with the deepening climate crisis, the vulnerable, the poor, women and the excluded are the ones paying the highest price.
While we witness an unprecedented disruption of business as usual, the pandemic also keeps highlighting the stark disparities and injustices in our societies. Illness and school closures are exacerbating the inequalities in healthcare and unpaid care work, 70% of which is carried out by women.
Hundreds of millions of people have been pushed into poverty and hunger. Most governments don’t have the resources needed to face this formidable challenge.
This is a choice point for all of you. One that will go down in history books as either the moment when you truly stepped up to the challenge, or the moment when you caved in to powerful elites, used our public resources to shore up special interests or simply tried to restore the status quo ante and increase inequality.
What we need is a healthy, green, feminist and just recovery. This means re-building our economies in a way that works for everyone. It means progressive tax reforms to guarantee and invest in universal access to healthcare, education, social protection, and a clean environment as basic human rights.
It means protecting workers’ rights and creating millions of fairly paid jobs in industries that contribute to the deep decarbonization needed and don’t hurt the environment and our communities.
It means addressing gender based violence and ensuring adequate pay and safe working conditions for care workers – during the crisis, but above all in the long term.
Building more equal feminist economies that support men and women care givers through paid sick, family and medical leave from work.
It also means enacting nationally and globally equitable solutions to the climate crisis, so that no one is unfairly left behind to deal with the impacts of climate change.
Such a just recovery can only be achieved if lower income countries are freed from the burden of structural adjustment programs and debt, and are able to mobilize the resources to face the immediate needs created by the pandemic as well as the longer-term systemic change towards low-carbon economies and energy systems.
It is also essential that civil society activists and organisations that speak truth to power and advocate for the needs of the excluded are involved in decision making and protected in the exercise of their functions through respect for civic freedoms.
As the decision-makers in the richest countries on the planet, you are expected to make these decisions in the interests of the many. Those trillions of dollars are our money. The lives at stake are our lives. The future hanging in the balance is our future. You have a responsibility towards present and future generations to be loyal stewards of the public good.
Yet vast amounts of public money have already been spent on supporting fossil fuel corporations and other polluting industries, mostly with no strings attached. Rather than investing in a better future, you’re dragging us back into the past. But we are reaching the point of no return.
So, we the undersigned, representing civil society organizations from all fields, are putting you on notice.
You still have time to make the right call and make sure that the resources available for the recovery will be spent on reducing inequalities, ensuring gender justice, repairing injustice, recognizing and putting an end to structural racism, avoiding climate change and the resulting extinction of entire ecosystems.
The only acceptable response to the covid-19 crisis is to enact recovery plans that aim to fix what’s broken in our societies and start us on a new path to a more just and sustainable future for all.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook