Irish Times view on impact of Covid-19: Hunger rising in step with pandemic

The call by the WHO to boost vaccination in the developing world should be heeded

Tunisians wait for their turn to receive a COVID-19 veccine at an inoculation center in Ariana governorate near the capital Tunis this weekend. (Photograph: Fethi Belhaid /AFP)

Tunisians wait for their turn to receive a COVID-19 veccine at an inoculation center in Ariana governorate near the capital Tunis this weekend. (Photograph: Fethi Belhaid /AFP)

 

Peru was on the mend. Poverty and childhood malnutrition had been cut in half over the past two decades and experts were predicting it would end the decade as a high-income nation. Covid has changed it all - it is now the country with the world’s highest covid death rate per capita, and poverty has soared from 20 per cent to 30 per cent in a year. Over half the population is suffering severe and moderate food insecurity.

The economic catastrophe set off by Covid-19 has battered millions of people and the region hit hardest, Latin America and the Caribbean, has seen the biggest one-year spike in food insecurity: a jump of nine percentage points, to 40.9 per cent.

In South Africa, typically one of the most food-secure nations in Africa, hunger has rippled across the country. Over the past year, three devastating waves of the virus have taken tens of thousands of breadwinners, leaving families unable to buy food. An estimated three million South Africans lost their jobs pushing the unemployment rate to a record 33 per cent. By year’s end 2020 nearly 40 per cent of all South Africans were affected by hunger, according to an academic study.

In large swaths of the developing world, where vaccine distribution grossly lags that in wealthier nations, relentless new surges are rekindling the scourge of hunger.

The pandemic spike in hunger, the largest in at least 20 years, is dealing another setback to the fight for Zero Hunger that not only in Peru the world was once winning.

Some 270 million people are expected to face potentially life-threatening food shortages this year, compared to 150 million before the pandemic, according to the World Food Programme. The numbers on the brink of famine jumped to 41 million people currently from 34 million last year, its analysis shows.

Hunger is the deadly twin of Covid-19 whose direct economic consequences – job losses, soaring food prices (international maize prices have jumped nearly 90 per cent in a year), soaring state indebtedness, and new waves of migration – are a lethal multiplier to the pandemic.

Last week the known total of global coronavirus infections surpassed 200 million, the grossly understated death toll hit 4.2 million. And we are far from turning the corner, not least in the increasingly hungry developing world whose fate we hold in our hands. To date, of more than four billion vaccine doses administered around the world, more than 80 per cent have been used in high- and upper-middle-income countries, which account for less than half of the world’s population.

Last Wednesday the World Health Organisation called for a moratorium on booster shots until the end of September in an effort to help all countries innoculate 10 per cent of their populations. Its call should be heeded.

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