The advent of vaccines for COVID-19 let us breathe easy for a while. And while the second wave of the pandemic scorches through the world, we’re rushing to solve the logistics around manufacture and delivery. It’s a matter of time, and while the human toll will be high, we’ll get through it.
But the pandemic is more than just a medical problem. It’s been a catalyst for change.
For example, it’s boosted e-commerce and made cashless payments mainstream. Some experts say it was the growth equivalent of a decade in the span of 3 months.
It’s made working-from-home the norm. A huge step in remote working which until now only the freelancing community had been able to manage.
The forced lock-downs across the world resulted in huge drops in pollution — which decades of environmental activism had been unable to accomplish.
In many ways, the changes have been for the better. We’re all spending more time at home with family. We’re more empathetic to others. And we’ve learned more skills — whether out of boredom or necessity.
But COVID-19 has also been a catalyst for another impending crisis — one which we previously had over a decade to resolve (or procrastinate over).
The term ‘Food Security’ was first formally defined in 1974 by the World Food Conference. It’s key pillars as defined by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are Availability, Access, Utilization and Stability. Further, in 2015, the UN laid out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of its Agenda 2030 in which “Zero Hunger” is second only to “No Poverty”. It sought to achieve their target of ending hunger by 2030 by addressing trade restrictions, distortions in world agricultural market sand food commodity markets.
However, in 2020 alone, an estimated 142 million people suffered from undernourishment due to the pandemic. Last month, David Beasely (Executive Director, UN World Food Programme) told the UN Security Council that an estimated 272 million people now face acute hunger.
“We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes. Famine — driven by conflict and fueled by climate shocks and the Covid-19 — is knocking on the door for millions of families,” — WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
This is not just due to an overall shortage of food — but attributed more to interruptions in food supply chains in local markets.
Most food supply chains in South Asia are driven by small-scale farmers who rely on a network of small businesses to get their goods to the market. These supply chains were disproportionately affected by restrictions on mobility due to quarantine and lockdown measures causing shortages at the retail front — fueling hikes in food prices. The FAO food price index indicates that global food prices are currently at a six-year high.
While global hunger was always considered to be a rural phenomenon, the pandemic has created a new vulnerable audience — the urban wage-earner. Some recent research shows that while COVID-19 is expected to affect a 15% increase in poverty in rural area and 44% increase in urban areas.
It would seem, therefore, that getting through COVID-19 isn’t going to be the end of our troubles as much as it will be the beginning of a whole new one — which, like the pandemic, we aren’t prepared for.