Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 3 August 2020

The pandemic is deepening the hunger crisis

The coronavirus and its economic impacts have hit the world's poorest people hardest

A child bathes with rain water in crisis-hit Venezuela. AP Photo
A child bathes with rain water in crisis-hit Venezuela. AP Photo

Much has been said about the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impact on the global economy and its disruption of businesses and livelihoods. The outbreak, and ensuing movement restrictions, have taken a toll especially on the most vulnerable segments of society, increasing wealth inequality around the world.

There are fears that the global recession will prevent traditional donors from providing the humanitarian assistance needed to stave off the effects of the coronavirus in developing nations.

The primary victims of this tragedy are the poor. A UN report has predicted that the pandemic will push 14 million Arabs below the poverty line.

The World Bank estimates that by the end of 2020, poverty rates will climb “for the first time since 1998” and that a “sharp drop” in GDP per capita is expected. According to the UN, the virus and its impact on daily life will result in an estimated 10,000 more young children dying every month. A total of 128,000 more children will die in the pandemic’s first year due to hunger, malnutrition and limited access to food and aid.

In developing countries, restricted movement has cut off rural communities from the cities, leaving farmers unable to access town markets. People in rural areas seeking food and medical assistance are also growing more isolated than before, the UN notes.

As a result, more children are going to sleep hungry. Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of children suffering from “wasting”, an acute form of malnutrition that manifests through bloated bellies and meagre limbs, has risen by more than half a million a month. Four UN agencies have called for at least $2.4 billion in international aid, needed immediately in order to address global hunger. If the international community fails to act in time, the coronavirus pandemic will trigger famines of “biblical proportions”, according to World Food Programme chief David Beasley.

Even before the outbreak, countries such as Venezuela, where high inflation has made salaries worthless, saw one third of their population go hungry. Millions were forced to migrate in search of better opportunities. The pandemic is set to drive these numbers even higher.

In the Middle East, a Venezuela scenario looms over Lebanon and Syria, as local currencies are devaluing sharply, leading to inflation, increased poverty and food insecurity. Yesterday, Moody’s Investors Service lowered Lebanon’s credit score to C from Ca, the same rating as Venezuela.

The pandemic has also compounded crises in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – the latter now being on the brink of famine. Before civil war broke out in 2015, Yemen was already one of the Arab world’s poorest nations. Today, as conflict - as well as coronavirus and other infectious diseases - strike the divided country, Yemenis have become particularly vulnerable to hunger and sickness. The UAE has provided more than $6 billion in aid to Yemen since 2015.

In the Middle East, a Venezuela scenario looms over Lebanon and Syria

Since the onset of the pandemic, the UAE has also sent more than 520 tonnes of aid to at least 47 countries around the world, including neighbouring Iran, which was the epicenter of the virus in the Middle East in February. The country has also launched a campaign to provide 10 million meals to low-income families living in the UAE, and who have been affected by the economic downturn from Covid-19.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. Chief among them was a commitment to eradicate poverty and hunger worldwide. The coronavirus has, however, hindered progress made on these fronts. Urgent action is needed to prevent a worldwide catastrophe from hitting the world’s most vulnerable nations and reversing years of progress.

Updated: July 28, 2020 06:40 PM

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