Earlier this week, I wrote about the growing concern for meat shortages in the US. Around the world, however, millions of people are facing food-related threats far more significant than meat shortages. In late April, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program at the United Nations, warned that 30 million people are at risk of starvation as a result of additional strains placed upon the global food system by the coronavirus pandemic. We are facing the global food crisis of 2020.
Before the onset of the pandemic, the global food system was already showing signs of being overwhelmed. The UN warned we were about to see a situation in which 300,000 people per day could starve to death over a three month period.
The current threat of starvation is centered around three dozen countries. In ten of these countries, more than a million people (per country) are already on the verge of starvation. The pandemic means many of the resources that might have been used to relieve this threat are no longer dependable.
The crisis was already present, then came the pandemic, which made things worse. The collapse in oil prices has also worsened the situation. In a nation like South Sudan, oil accounts for 99% of total exports. As the price of oil collapsed in the last month, the people of South Sudan are at risk of starvation with little recourse to rescue themselves. A locust plague in East Africa resulted in, as of yet, untold damage to vast areas of the continent’s agricultural system.
In countries where food supplies are already falling short to prevent widespread starvation, the pandemic presents new obstacles for aid organizations—people who line up for aid relief risk contracting the coronavirus. But hunger is the more immediate concern rather than fear of the virus in such situations. When India ordered its lockdown for the virus, half a million poor left the cities to walk home. It was the largest mass migration on the subcontinent since independence 70 years ago. There were no more jobs and no more wages, so the people were going home to the countryside in hopes of finding food.
The problem is not a lack of supply around the world. It is a failure of distribution. Certain parts of the world have plenty of food, while other parts of the world have far too little. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted supply chains, upended economies, closed borders, stopped production, and utterly discombobulated import and export systems. What we are witnessing with the new global food crisis was already present before the pandemic arrived, though. As I mentioned in my book at the end of 2019, the system is corrupted and already collapsing. The pandemic has only exposed the massive fractures that were already there.
If you are interested in learning more about the fractures in the global food system, you may be interested in ordering my recent book: How the World Ends – Understanding the Growing Chaos. Part 3 of the book is all about the global food system and its growing fractures.