July 10, 2020, New Delhi: The coronavirus pandemic has dealt human civilisation countless blows on various fronts apart from the direct impact of the Covid-19 virus itself. The deepest of those impacts has been a fast escalating “hunger crisis”.
Covid-19, which is not showing any signs of dying out, will drastically add to the hunger crisis on this already hungry planet, according to a chilling report aired by Oxfam, a Nairobi-based international food security monitor.
The news is not at all good for India, which is the third worst-hit country in terms of coronavirus infections, after the US and Brazil. In its incisive report, Oxfam has identified India as an “emerging hotspot” for hunger deaths.
In the report titled ‘The Hunger Virus: How Covid-19 is Fuelling Hunger in a Hungry World’, Oxfam says, “Middle-income countries such as India, South Africa and Brazil are experiencing rapidly rising levels of hunger as millions of people that were just about managing have been tipped over the edge by the pandemic.”
The warning is clearly a result of the intensifying financial impact that the outbreak has been having on fragile economies such as the one in India.
Oxfam also goes on to make an astonishing projection on the worldwide front, saying that 12,000 people globally could be dying every day out of hunger caused by the pandemic by the end of 2020. “Covid-19 is deepening the hunger crisis in the world’s hunger hotspots and creating new epicentres of hunger across the globe. By the end of the year, 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to Covid-19, potentially more than will die from the disease itself,” the report predicts.
A similar concern has also been flagged by the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP estimates that the number of people who are experiencing crisis-level hunger will rise to 270 million before the end of the year as a result of the pandemic, an 82% increase since 2019. It means 6,000 to 12,000 people could die per day, the Oxfam article says, citing the UN body that monitors food security.
The Oxfam paper has chalked down the names of the top 10 countries that are deemed “extreme hunger hotspots”: namely, Yemen, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the West African Sahel, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Haiti.
Lengthy coronavirus-related lockdowns, border closures, industries drying up, and widespread travel restrictions have impacted countless countries around the world.
In India, a sudden announcement of a 21-day lockdown on the night of March 23 on just a four-hour notice left the whole country baffled and later bruised. The curbs remained in place for nearly three months eventually.
Close to 40% of India’s population works in various states. That huge migrant population, which mostly worked in the informal sector, had no option but to walk hundreds of thousands of miles towards their homes in the hinterland.
Take India’s farmers, for example. Due to the lockdown, farmers had to abruptly stop producing crops because the supply networks had been frozen. So, they had no option but to let the unsold produce rot. This led to an enormous humanitarian crisis in a country that was already reeling from chronic hunger.
The Oxfam report says that last year in India, “195 million people, (which is) 14.5% of the population, were malnourished as a result of extreme inequality, a lack of investment in rural communities (which are home to 70% of the population), a failure to protect workers living in poverty, corrupt and inefficient systems for distributing food aid and social support, and an increasingly erratic and extreme climate.”
Last month, EmpireDiaries.com had reported that from January this year up until June 7, nearly 50 lakh people around the world perished due to lack of food as against 4 lakh people globally who died from Covid-19 during that period.
The ratio certainly won’t be hugely different for India. No wonder Oxfam’s findings paint a grim picture for the country.
Following the study, Oxfam has urged the governments of vulnerable countries around the world to start looking for ways to tackle the situation. Will India and the others get down to action?