More people could die as a result of hunger linked to Covid-19 than from the disease, warned charity group Oxfam in a new report published on Thursday, estimating that 122 million more people could be pushed to starvation this year.
The scenario, it says in the report titled The Hunger Virus, is the result of the social and economic fallout from the pandemic including through mass unemployment, disruption to food production and supplies, and declining aid.
Danny Sriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: “The knock-on impacts of Covid-19 are far more widespread than the virus itself, pushing millions of the world’s poorest people deeper into hunger and poverty. It is vital governments contain the spread of this deadly disease, but they must also prevent it killing as many – if not more – people from hunger”.
“Governments can save lives now by funding the UN Covid-19 appeal and supporting the call for a global ceasefire to end conflict in order to tackle the pandemic”, he added.
The group wants the UK to champion debt cancellation at the G20 finance ministers meeting next week to pay for social protection measures such as cash grants to help people survive.
The report reveals the world’s ten worst hunger ‘hotspots’, including Afghanistan, Syria and South Sudan where the food crisis is most severe and getting worse as a result of the pandemic.
It also highlights emerging epicentres of hunger – middle income countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil – where millions of people who were barely managing have been tipped over the edge by the pandemic.
On India, the report says: “Travel restrictions left farmers without vital migrant labour at the peak of the harvest season, forcing many to leave their crops in the field to rot. Traders have also been unable to reach tribal communities during the peak harvest season for forest products, depriving up to 100 million people of their main source of income”.
Women, and women-headed households, are more likely to go hungry despite the crucial role they play as food producers and workers, the group said.
Labour MP Preet Kaur Gill, shadow international development secretary, said on the report: “Even before this pandemic, billions of people were facing unnecessary hunger, preventable deaths and extreme poverty”.
“Covid-19 has worsened inequalities around the world and pushed millions more into hunger. We simply cannot overcome the challenges we face without global cooperation to provide humanitarian support now and to tackle the root causes behind the lack of access to nutritious food.”
Since the pandemic began, Oxfam said it helped 4.5 million of the world’s most vulnerable people with food aid and clean water, working with over 344 partners across 62 countries. The international agency aims to reach a total of 14 million people by raising a further $113 million.