In a new briefing published recently, Oxfam warns that hunger linked to COVID-19 could kill as many as 12,000 people a day by the end of the year, potentially claiming more lives each day than the disease itself.
‘The Hunger Virus,’ reveals how 121 million more people (globally) could be pushed to the brink of starvation this year as a result of the social and economic fallout from the pandemic including through mass unemployment, disruption to food production and supplies, and declining aid.
In the Horn, East and Central Africa (HECA) region, over 47 million people were already food insecure due to the triple crises of floods, locust infestation and now COVID-19.
Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam’s HECA Regional Director said: “DRC, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan were all already facing humanitarian emergencies and urgently needed funding when the pandemic hit.
Continuing debt, at a time when many HECA governments are already economically devastated and responding to the pandemic, mean efforts to curb hunger will be extremely challenged. Donor governments should fully fund the UN’s COVID-19 humanitarian appeal to mitigate
the additional food security impacts of COVID-19. The G20 Finance Ministers, meeting later in July 2020 must take bold and urgent action to ensure that private creditors and multilateral lenders cancel all debt payments in the region for 2020 and 2021.
The briefing reveals the most severe hunger hotspots in the HECA region. For example:
- In DRC, where 15.6 million people are food insecure, the price of locally produced goods, such as maize, cassava and sorghum, had risen nearly 50% by April 2020, compared to the same month the previous year.
- In Ethiopia, where 8 million people are food insecure, an estimated 356,000 metric tons of cereal crops and 1.3 million hectares of pastureland have been lost to locusts to date. Movement restrictions slowed measures to control the swarms and impacted the food supply chain.
- In Sudan, where 5.9 million people were already food insecure in 2019, COVID-19 has contributed to hunger. In the current period of June to September 2020, an estimated 9.6 million people are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity and need urgent action.
- In South Sudan, where 7 million people are already food insecure, seven years of protracted conflict and violent extremism has forced millions from their homes and had a devastating impact on domestic food production in a country where 80% of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. More recently, swarms of desert locusts have been devouring crops and pasture, with fears that the plague − already in the hundreds of billions − will grow further.
With the humanitarian response underfunded, declining tax revenues, and falling prices of commodities such as oil, currently available funds are not sufficient to address the deepening hunger crisis. Oxfam is calling for the cancellation of all external debt payments due to be made in 2020 and 2021 as the fastest way to free up resources needed to save millions from hunger and ensure livelihoods are rebuilt.
Mama Fatuma Muhumed Kanyare, a farmer from Tana River in Kenya, told East African Business Week News: “When the locusts attacked my farm, they took everything green. Then floods came too and washed away irrigation pumps and destroyed farm produce.
“My firstborn who was supporting us lost his job due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. I can no longer enjoy three meals because of COVID-19, floods, and locusts. Sometimes we forgo breakfast or lunch because of the hardship.”
“Governments must also ensure that additional loans and any relief due to debt suspension or cancellation, is channelled towards programs that help those most impacted. They should ensure accountability and transparency in the use of funds, and that expanded social protection and increased funding for agriculture are among the priorities,” said Corinne N’Daw, Oxfam’s Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In April, the G20 approved a one-year debt suspension to some countries in the region. While this provides some relief for governments and frees up funds to support recovery, this suspension is inadequate.
It should be extended to all forms of multilateral and privately held debt. Rather than suspending payments, lenders should cancel payments for 2020 and 2021.