The rapid global spread of COVID-19 has demonstrated that no matter how successful America is at fighting this pandemic here at home, we will never stop this threat unless we’re also fighting it around the world. In this series of issue briefs, the USGLC takes an in-depth look at the global response and COVID-19’s impacts on vulnerable populations, global development and diplomacy, and the future of U.S. global leadership. Read more from our series here.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased global food insecurity in almost every country by reducing incomes and disrupting food supply chains—conditions worsened worldwide by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The pandemic continues to create devastating effects on global hunger and poverty – especially on the poorest and most vulnerable populations.  Today, the number of severely food-insecure people has doubled from before the pandemic to 276 million people. By the end of 2022, due to the compounding effects of continued social, political, and economic crises around the world, the World Food Program (WFP) estimates this total to rise to 323 million people.

  • The UN warns that without immediate humanitarian assistance, over 43 million people in 38 countries across the globe are at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions. Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yemen are at the highest risk of famine.
  • Since 2019, the number of hungry people in West Africa has quadrupled, reaching its highest levels in decades. This intensifies an already severe food crisis in the region, as farmers have struggled to feed their families due to drought, inflation, COVID-19 border closures, and political instability.
  • Food insecurity was high in conflict-affected areas even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A November 2021 assessment found that 28% of Ukraine’s population has experienced moderate or severe levels of food insecurity in the country’s eastern region. That number is projected to rise to over 40% in the next three months.
  • The share of the global population not getting sufficient nourishment has increased from 8.4% to 9.9% in one year, threatening the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger by 2030). If current trends continue, 660 million people will still be hungry in 2030.

Supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and increased consumer demand for food drastically raised food prices across the globe – increasing the severity of food insecurity for the 811 million people around the world who go to bed hungry every night. The war in Ukraine has disrupted almost a third of the world’s wheat market, worsening a food security crisis already exacerbated by COVID-19. Without immediate assistance, trends will continue, with climate shocks, violent conflict, and global health challenges driving food commodity prices to their highest levels ever.

  • In March 2022, world food prices surged at the fastest pace ever, jumping nearly 13% to a new record high. Low-income countries that are already struggling to recover from COVID-19 and rely on reasonably priced wheat, vegetable oils, and other food staples will be hit hardest by skyrocketing prices. This is pushing import-dependent countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa to a “breaking point.”
    • The cost of minimum monthly food needs is up 351% in Lebanon, 97% in Syria, and 81% in Yemen. Wheat flour and cooking oil is up as much as 47% in the region.
  • The price of wheat and oil has increased by 300% in Somalia during the Ukraine crisis. As a result, families are forced to turn to cheaper, less nutritious options, contributing to malnutrition and obesity. Today, 6 million Somalis are “marching towards starvation,” according to World Food Program (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley.
  • Kenya has seen the price of fuel increase for the first time in five months, raising food inflation to nearly 10%. With fertilizer prices projected to increase by 70%, people are worried about how the country will handle dual threats from COVID-19 and inflation. Below-average rain also threatens to reduce crop production by 70%, pushing 3.1 million people into severe levels of hunger.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated child hunger and malnutrition. As the pandemic enters its third year, 23 countries have yet to fully reopen schools to their more than 405 million school children. In 2022, COVID-19 disruptions and supply chain challenges may push an additional 9.3 to 13.6 million children into acute malnutrition.

  •  5.5 million children in East Africa are facing high levels of malnutrition, due to the compounding effects of COVID-19, intense drought, and the Ukraine crisis. Less than 40% of children in the Middle East and Northern Africa have access to the nutritious diets needed to grow properly.
  • The economic impact of COVID-19 may result in $29.7 billion in losses in 2022 due to excess stunting and child mortality. However, for every dollar invested in nutrition, $16 is returned to the local economy.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working through Feed the Future programming, as well as with multisector partners to address global food security. During the 2021 United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit, USAID announced a $5 billion investment in Feed the Future over the next five years. In addition to this investment, USAID also announced a partnership plan with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Eleanor Crook Foundation to mobilize $100 million in financing to tackle the root causes of malnutrition and address the effects of COVID-19 on malnutrition and food insecurity in developing countries.

  • In Nepal, Feed the Future strengthened food security during the COVID-19 pandemic by connecting Nepali farmers and business owner with online delivery companies. This has enabled smallholder farmers to maintain produce sales, while providing local families access to nutritious food sources.
  • In East Africa, USAID is providing nearly $114 million in humanitarian assistance for food assistance, medical supplies, and clean water. More than 20 million people across the region will need emergency food assistance this year, a 70% increase since 2017.
  • In Bangladesh, Feed the Future is working with a major seed supplier in the southern part of the country to connect smallholder farmers with the resources and ingredients needed to grow nutritious crops.
  • In Guatemala, Feed the Future partners with the Inter-American Foundation to provide Guatemalan women access to low-interest rate loans to expand their businesses. As agriculture is a major economic driver in Guatemala, this program has allowed businesswomen to invest in more land, sustain livestock production, and increase their access to nutritious food.

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The World Bank has been tackling rising food insecurity through tailored financing for new and existing projects:

  • In Sierra Leone, emergency financing under the Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project is supporting government COVID-19 response initiatives with inputs and land mechanization services to support rice farmers. The World Bank-financed Social Safety Net Project also scaled up its cash transfer system to provide support to the most vulnerable households.
  • In Guatemala, the Responding to COVID-19: Modern and Resilient Agri-food Value Chains project aims to provide emergency response to COVID-19 and increase economic and climate resilience by improving the efficiency of key agricultural value chains and investing in modern technologies and practices.
  • In Chad, $30 million in emergency financing was mobilized to provide food assistance through the free distribution of food kits to 437,000 vulnerable people experiencing severe food and nutritional insecurity located in both urban and rural areas. Further, it provided seeds and small agricultural equipment to 25,000 poor and vulnerable smallholder farmers to preserve their productive capacity for the imminent growing season.

Last updated April 2022

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