Home > Covid-19 > Could hunger become the second global pandemic of 2020?

Misean Cara’s Health Officer Niamh Caffrey warns that hunger could become the second global pandemic of 2020.

Health officer Niamh Caffrey

As COVID-19 continues to dominate around the world, a further emergency is lurking in its shadows, ready to strike, and impact millions around the world. That simmering emergency is food insecurity, writes Niamh Caffrey.

The World Food Programme estimates that 265 million people could be affected, pushed to the edge of starvation, doubling the total for last year. Food insecurity is classified as a level of hunger at which a person’s inability to consume adequate food endangers their life or livelihood.

Hunger has been identified at global level by the WFP and the 2020 Global Report on Food Crises, as well as at local level by Misean Cara members, as potentially the most damaging long-term repercussion of COVID-19, which will disproportionately affect developing countries.

Food insecurity affects populations around the world, but Africa faces a larger impact than any other continent due to various factors: conflict and insecurity, economic and health shocks, weather extremes and pests, with the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 exacerbating an already bleak situation.

Misean Cara members in Wau, South Sudan and Mukuru, Kenya have both reported desperation at the health facilities with community members expressing a shared fear, not of COVID-19, but of hunger.

Strict lockdowns, restricted movements, suspension of aid projects, redirection of funding and interruption to supply chains have shut down informal economies, where the majority of families were eking out their living, surviving through a hand-to-mouth existence.

Misean Cara members in India were struck by one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, which triggered short-term food supply interruptions, resulting in shortages of food, the rising of prices, and ultimately pushing some food items out of the reach of too many.

Food distribution queue for elderly residents in Chennai, India; this outreach to ensure nutritional meals were available for vulnerable communities was carried out by Salesians Don Bosco with support from Misean Cara.

We all think we have experienced hunger. But the pangs of real hunger are not easily forgotten and not easily rectified. Real hunger can lead to moderate and severe acute malnutrition, directly affecting our mental health, increasing risk of chronic diseases, influencing school or work performance, and impairing our immune system, negatively affecting one’s ability to fight COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organisation, malnutrition is particularly lethal in combination with infectious diseases.

The fear of hunger is now growing into a fear of the short and long-term consequences hunger will bring; a new pandemic.

Preparation for distribution of food parcels in Bihar, India. Supported by the Salesians and Misean Cara.

Misean Cara has supported emergency projects across the world in their response to food provision to those most in need, encouraging and supporting members to redirect funding to provide this essential safety net before the crisis further escalates.

We cannot sit by idly and allow hunger to eclipse COVID-19. There is still time to act to halt the rise of hunger, before it becomes the second global pandemic of 2020.

Let me end with a plea from a 13 year old girl in Kenya who captures the urgency of this hunger pandemic.

“Ever since the first covid-19 infection in Kenya having three meals in a day was hard for us, we would sometimes sleep without eating anything in a day. Each and every day infections would rise, many lived in fear of the disease. My mother would go through a hard time trying to find food and necessities for us.”

The first part of this series of reflections on the global pandemic by Misean Cara’s Niamh Caffrey is here.

The second part of Niamh Caffrey’s series is about the strain of caring for COVID-19 against a backdrop of fragmented healthcare systems and can be read here.

The third part of Niamh Caffrey’s series is about missionaries supporting innovation in the face of COVID-19.