Almost unnoticed among other aspects of the coronavirus crisis, hundreds of millions of people across the world face hunger, malnutrition and—for some—starvation.
The figures are even worse than those estimated at the start of the pandemic.
A Bloomberg website report says that United Nations (UN) forecasts show that in a worst-case scenario, about one in ten of the world’s population won’t have enough to eat this year.
Many millions more are expected to face food insecurity, including not being able to afford healthy diets, which can lead to malnutrition and obesity.
There will be more starvation deaths.
By the end of the year, as many as 12,000 people could die a day from hunger linked to how Covid-19 has been handled.
An article in The Lancet magazine in July said, “We estimate there would be 128,605 additional deaths in children younger than five years during 2020, with an estimated 52 percent of these deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The effects will be long lasting. Even in its best-case projections, the UN predicts that by 2030, the number of undernourished people could reach as high as 909 million, compared with about 841 million before Covid-19.
The current crisis is one of the “rarest of times” with both physical and economic limitations to access food, said Arif Husain, chief economist with the UN’s World Food Programme.
“We’ll see the scars of this crisis for generations,” said Mariana Chilton, director of the Centre for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University. “In 2120, we’ll still be talking about this crisis.”
Increased malnutrition has a deep and lasting human toll. It can weaken the immune system, limit mobility and even impair brain functioning.
Children who experience malnutrition can see its impact well into adulthood.
“Even the mildest forms of food insecurity have lifelong consequences,” said Chilton of the charity Centre for Hunger-Free Communities. Problems with physical and cognitive development in children and adolescents can hamper the chances of staying in school or getting a job.
Because the low paid and people on benefits are the most likely to be hit by food shortages, malnutrition intersects with class inequality.
Capitalism can’t deal with the virus effectively and it can’t even feed people at a time of booming food production.
None of this is inevitable.
Bloomberg headlines its report “A Tenth of the World Could Go Hungry While Crops Rot in Fields” and says, “What makes the situation unmatched is that the massive spike is happening at a time of enormous global food surpluses.”
There are plenty of examples. In Queens, New York, “the lines snaking around a food bank are eight hours long as people wait for a box of supplies that might last them a week, while farmers in California are ploughing over lettuce and fruit is rotting on trees in Washington.
“In Uganda, bananas and tomatoes are piling up in markets, and even nearly give away prices aren’t low enough for out of work buyers.”
Millions of people have been thrown out of work and don’t have enough money to feed their families, despite the trillions in government handouts to banks and big businesses that has sent global equities to unprecedented highs.
And it’s not just the pandemic that is causing the spike in hunger.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says that malnutrition—although it remained very high—generally fell over the past several decades. But then a reversal started in 2015, spurred by climate change and war.
Bloomberg sees that potential political fallout of the present crisis. “Hunger can spark seismic shifts in the political landscape. Going back to the days of the French Revolution, food insecurity has sent people into the streets demanding better conditions.”
That’s needed now to tackle a death-dealing system.