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Food Insecurity and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Alison Gerzina

Of the human consequences resulting from the global Coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity poses the most immediate and dire threat to the safety, health, and well-being of the global community. Experts around the world are warning the Coronavirus crisis could push more than a quarter of a billion people to the brink of starvation. The virus has rocked the world’s economy, leaving millions of people out of work and school and without sufficient means to feed their families.

The global economy is on the verge of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Many governments have effectively halted all social and economic activity. The Coronavirus pandemic threatens to shrink the world’s largest economies by anywhere from 3 to 10 percent. China, the world’s second largest economy, experienced its first economic contraction in more than forty years; in America, roughly one in five adults, or 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, have now filed for unemployment. The current economic standstill will result in the continued disruptions in supply chains and agricultural production that could last for months after the virus has subsided.

The idea the Coronavirus is “a great equalizer,” affecting the rich and poor alike, has gained social traction; it has been anything but. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable populations around the globe. The looming crisis is dire. In India, people are lining up to receive meals, often their first in days. In Africa, people are so desperate for food a stampede broke out during a food giveaway leaving many injured and two dead. From Honduras to South Africa, protests and looting have begun as frustration and worry grows over supply shortages and rising prices. In the United States, cars are lined up for miles to receive supplies while food banks are struggling to meet the growing demand.

In developing countries, food systems are labor intensive and have been interrupted due to social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders. The recent closures of airports, curfews, and other restrictions on movement have slowed the flow of supplies like seeds and farming tools and made the distribution of food aid problematic. But with millions facing hunger, there is no shortage of food. In the U.S., farmers and food distributors are either throwing food out or letting it spoil. This is not a heartless act, though. Milk and produce, among other things, are perishable, so getting it out to people must happen quickly. However, again, national lockdowns and social distancing restrictions are decimating jobs and income, leading to interruptions in the production and supply chains and slowing the distribution process. Food producers and distributors have few, if any, ways of getting food to those who need it.

All that being said, there are a number of ways businesses, governments, and individuals are helping mitigate this crisis. Governments are passing a series of stimulus packages and providing financial aid to its citizens; they are fixing prices on food and essential supplies and delivering free food to those in need. Communities around the world are doing their part as well, starting crowd funding campaigns, donating to local food banks, and creating programs to buy meals for vulnerable families. Businesses have been both creative and innovative in finding new ways to get food to people who need it. Producers have pivoted their distribution strategy to supply grocers directly. Restaurants that continued receiving food from distributors have created mini markets to sell food at discounted prices.

Food insecurity was a pervasive problem that predated the pandemic, but which is being compounded by the virus and an economic nosedive. The world is staring down the barrel of a generational hunger crisis. But there is hope. This is the perfect opportunity for global cooperation and collective action among all spheres of society. We have already seen movements in this direction with action from the United Nations World Food Program, the IMF, various NGOs, other civil society organizations, individuals, and small businesses. This crisis is a call to action: we need everyone, everywhere to join forces to support our human community.

Alison is from Tallahassee, Florida. She played two years of collegiate volleyball at Pensacola State College and finished her Undergraduate career at Florida State University where she graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Media/Communications with a Minor in English. She graduated in May 2020 with an M.A. in Ethics, Peace, and Human Rights from American University. During her time at the Washington Institute, Alison has been involved in market and grant research, as well as drafting marketing materials and graphic design.

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