12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to Covid-19 by end of year, potentially more than the disease, warns Oxfam Ireland

12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to Covid-19 by end of year, potentially more than the disease, warns Oxfam Ireland

“Poverty is another disease, it is as dangerous as this virus”

Millions of people in hunger on a planet that produces more than enough food for everyone

As many as 12,000 people could die per day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to COVID-19, potentially more than will die from the disease itself, warned Oxfam in a new briefing published today. The global observed daily mortality rate for COVID-19 reached its highest recorded point in April 2020 at just over 10,000 deaths per day.

‘The Hunger Virus,’ reveals how 121 million more people 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.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “COVID-19 is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, an escalating climate crisis, extreme inequality and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers. Meanwhile, those at the top are continuing to make a profit: eight of the biggest food and drink companies paid out over $18 billion to shareholders since January even as the pandemic was spreading across the globe - ten times more than the UN says is needed to stop people going hungry.”  

“We need to look at why so many people are going hungry and why so many more are at-risk of hunger. This report shines a light on a food system that has trapped millions of people in hunger on a planet that produces more than enough food for everyone.”

The Oxfam briefing reveals the world’s ten worst hunger hotspots, places such as Afghanistan, Venezuela and Yemen where the food crisis is most severe and getting worse as a result of the pandemic. It also highlights emerging epicentres of hunger – middle-income countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil – where millions of people who were barely managing have been tipped over the edge by the pandemic.

Clarken continued: “Hunger can also be a weapon of war, as warring parties destroy markets and warehouses, suspend food imports and cut transportation links to gain power. Countries like this are particularly vulnerable and these issues are exacerbated by depleted funding and humanitarian aid as a result of the pandemic.”

An Afghani woman told Oxfam: “Poverty is another disease, it is as dangerous as this virus and if people continue staying home this way, a lot of families could die because of hunger.”

Women, and women-headed households, are more likely to go hungry despite the crucial role they play as food producers and workers. Women are already vulnerable because of systemic discrimination that sees them earn less and own fewer assets than men. They make up a large proportion of groups, such as informal workers, that have been hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, and have also borne the brunt of a dramatic increase in unpaid care work as a result of school closures and family illness. 

Clarken concluded: “Governments must contain the spread of this deadly disease but it is equally vital they take action to stop the pandemic killing as many – if not more – people from hunger.

“Governments can save lives now by fully funding the UN’s COVID-19 appeal, making sure aid gets to those who need it most, cancelling the debts of developing countries to free up funding for social protection and healthcare, and supporting the UN’s call for a global ceasefire. To end this hunger crisis, governments must also build fairer, more robust, and more sustainable food systems, that put the interests of food producers and workers before the profits of big food and agribusiness.”

Ends

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869

Notes to editor

  • The Hunger Virus: How the coronavirus is fuelling hunger in a hungry world is available here.
  • Stories, pictures, and video highlighting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on hunger across the globe are available on request.
  • Spokespeople are available for interview.
  • The ten extreme hunger hotspots are: Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, the West African Sahel, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Haiti.
  • Action needed: Provide emergency assistance to save lives now; Build fairer, more resilient and more sustainable food systems; Promote women’s participation and leadership; Cancel debts to allow developing countries to scale-up social protection; Support the UN’s call for a global ceasefire; Take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.

EXTREME HUNGER HOTSPOTS – Spotlight Yemen

Ravaged by more than five years of war, Yemen has the worst humanitarian and food security crisis worldwide. Two-thirds of the population – 20 million people – are hungry, and nearly 1.5 million families currently rely on food aid to survive. Within this bleak picture, women and children are the worst affected, with 1.4 million pregnant or breastfeeding women and over two million children suffering from moderate or severe malnutrition.

The ongoing conflict has decimated the country’s infrastructure, restricted food imports, led to mass unemployment and meant that health workers have not been paid since the start of the war. Meanwhile, locust swarms that have gone unchecked because of the war are adding to the problem and fuelling hunger in the country.

As of late June, Yemen had reported over 900 COVID-19 infections and over 250 deaths. However, with only half of the health system functioning and limited capacity to test for the virus, these figures are likely to be grave underestimates.

The impact of the pandemic on food security in Yemen is clearer. The slump in economic activity in wealthy Gulf states, brought on by lockdowns and low oil prices, has caused up to an 80 percent drop in remittances to Yemen in the first four months of 2020. The impact this decrease has had on poverty and food security is significant, as last year, remittances brought $3.8bn into Yemen, which equated to 13 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The closure of borders and supply routes in response to the pandemic has also severely disrupted supply chains in a country that imports 90 percent of its food. This has led to food shortages and price increases, especially for wheat flour and sugar. Food imports were down 43 percent in March and 39 percent in April compared with the same months in 2019.

Continued fighting, despite the UN calling for a global ceasefire, has also hampered humanitarian access, with aid reaching only 13.5 million people in early 2020, compared with 15.2 million in 2019. As well as this, humanitarian aid, already in decline before the crisis, is severely stretched. The USA cut $73m of its aid to Yemen in March 2020, and a donor pledging conference held in June raised only $1.35bn to support the country’s COVID-19 response, well below the target of $2.4bn.

Oxfam is rehabilitating the water supply to one of the main hospitals in Aden, providing cash assistance to families affected by flooding in the south of the country, and training community health volunteers to provide information about COVID-19 and the importance of hygiene and hand washing.

  • The WFP estimates that the number of people in crisis level hunger − defined as IPC level 3 or above – will increase by approximately 121 million this year as a result of the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. The estimated daily mortality rate for IPC level 3 and above is 0.5−1 per 10,000 people, equating to 6,050−12,100 deaths per day due to hunger as a result of the pandemic before the end of 2020. The global observed daily mortality rate for COVID-19 reached its highest recorded point in April 2020 at just over 10,000 deaths per day and has ranged from approximately 5,000 to 7,000 deaths per day in the months since then according to data from John Hopkins University. While there can be no certainty about future projections, if there is no significant departure from these observed trends during the rest of the year, and if the WFP estimates for increasing numbers of people experiencing crisis level hunger hold, then it is likely that daily deaths from hunger as a result of the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic will be higher than those from the disease before the end of 2020. It is important to note that there is some overlap between these numbers given that some deaths due to COVID-19 could be linked to malnutrition.
  • Oxfam gathered information on dividend payments of eight of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies up to the beginning of July 2020, using a mixture of company, NASDAQ, and Bloomberg websites. Numbers are rounded to the nearest million: Coca-Cola ($3,522m), Danone ($1,348m), General Mills ($594m), Kellogg ($391m),  Mondelez ($408m), Nestlé ($8,248m for entire year), PepsiCo ($2,749m) and Unilever (estimated $1,180m). Many of these companies are pursuing efforts to address COVID-19 and/or global hunger.
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