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Hunger linked to Covid-19 could cause 12,000 deaths a day by the end of the year, Oxfam says

Oxfam said millions are in danger of dying from hunger on a planet that produces more than enough food for everyone.

In this photo taken last week, children sit on the rubble of a warehouse in Sanaa in Yemen.
In this photo taken last week, children sit on the rubble of a warehouse in Sanaa in Yemen.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

HUNGER LINKED TO the Covid-19 outbreak could cause as many as 12,000 deaths per day by the end of the year, a new report from Oxfam has said.

The highest recorded daily deaths from Covid-19 was 10,000, and Oxfam is warning that potentially more people could die every day from hunger related to the coronavirus rather than the virus itself. 

Jim Clarken, the chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “Covid-19 is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, an escalating climate crisis, extreme inequality and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers.”

The places most at risk, according to the Hunger Virus report, are Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the west African Sahel, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Haiti. 

The report also said that 121 million more people could be pushed to the brink of starvation as a result of the social and economic fallout from the pandemic through mass unemployment, disruption to food production and supplies, and declining aid.

Even in more developed countries – such as India, South Africa and Brazil – there could be “emerging epicentres of hunger” where millions of people who were just getting by before the pandemic are tipped over the edge.

Looking specifically at the situation in Yemen, the outlook is bleak. 

Nearly 1.5 million families are currently relying on food aid to survive in the war-torn state. 

As of late June, Yemen had over 900 Covid-19 cases and over 250 deaths. But with only half a health system functioning and limited testing capacity, it is believed there may be far more cases. 

The slump in activity in other Gulf states during the pandemic has seen remittances to Yemen – i.e. money sent back to citizens there from abroad -  drop by 80% in the first four months of 2020. To put that in context, remittances brought €3.3 billion into the country last year which is 13% of its GDP.

Furthermore, the closure of borders and supply routes is severely disrupting supply chains in a country which imports 90% of its food. This has led to food shortages and price increases.

Clarken said: “We need to look at why so many people are going hungry and why so many more are at-risk of hunger. This report shines a light on a food system that has trapped millions of people in hunger on a planet that produces more than enough food for everyone.

Hunger can also be a weapon of war, as warring parties destroy markets and warehouses, suspend food imports and cut transportation links to gain power. Countries like this are particularly vulnerable and these issues are exacerbated by depleted funding and humanitarian aid as a result of the pandemic.

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Women in many countries are being particuarly affected by the current crisis, according to Oxfam. 

Women are already vulnerable “because of systemic discrimination that sees them earn less and own fewer assets than men”. They make up a large proportion of groups, such as informal workers, bearing the brunt of the economic fallout from the pandemic. 

“Poverty is another disease, it is as dangerous as this virus and if people continue staying home this way, a lot of families could die because of hunger,” according to one Afghani woman quoted in the report. 

Clarken added: “Governments must contain the spread of this deadly disease but it is equally vital they take action to stop the pandemic killing as many – if not more – people from hunger.

“Governments can save lives now by fully funding the UN’s Covid-19 appeal, making sure aid gets to those who need it most, cancelling the debts of developing countries to free up funding for social protection and healthcare, and supporting the UN’s call for a global ceasefire.

To end this hunger crisis, governments must also build fairer, more robust, and more sustainable food systems, that put the interests of food producers and workers before the profits of big food and agribusiness.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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