The Other Way Covid Will Kill: Hunger
The New York Times
By Peter S. Goodman, Abdi Latif Dahir and Karan Deep Singh
September 14, 2020
Long before the pandemic swept into her village in the rugged southeast of Afghanistan, Halima Bibi knew the
gnawing fear of hunger. It was an omnipresent force, an unrelenting source of anxiety as she struggled to
nourish her four children.
Her husband earned about $5 a day, hauling produce by wheelbarrow from a local market to surrounding
homes. Most days, he brought home a loaf of bread, potatoes and beans for an evening meal.
But when the coronavirus arrived in March, taking the lives of her neighbors and shutting down the market,
her husband’s earnings plunged to about $1 a day. Most evenings, he brought home only bread. Some nights,
he returned with nothing.
“We hear our children screaming in hunger, but there is nothing that we can do,” said Ms. Bibi, speaking in
Pashto by telephone from a hospital in the capital city of Kabul, where her 6-year-old daughter was being
treated for severe malnutrition. “That is not just our situation, but the reality for most of the families where
Among those people who went into the pandemic in extreme poverty, hundreds of millions are suffering an
intensifying crisis over how to secure their basic dietary needs.
It is increasingly the reality for hundreds of millions of people around the planet. As the global economy
absorbs the most punishing reversal of fortunes since the Great Depression, hunger is on the rise. Those
confronting potentially life-threatening levels of so-called food insecurity in the developing world are expected
to nearly double this year to 265 million, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
Worldwide, the number of children younger than 5 caught in a state of so-called wasting — their weight so far
below normal that they face an elevated risk of death, along with long-term health and developmental
problems — is likely to grow by nearly seven million this year, or 14 percent, according to a recent paper
published in The Lancet, a medical journal.
The largest numbers of vulnerable communities are concentrated in South Asia and Africa, especially in
countries that are already confronting trouble, from military conflict and extreme poverty to climate-related
afflictions like drought, flooding and soil erosion.
At least for now, the unfolding tragedy falls short of a famine, which is typically set off by a combination of
war and environmental disaster. Food remains widely available in most of the world, though prices have
climbed in many countries, as fear of the virus disrupts transportation links, and as currencies fall in value,
increasing the costs of imported items.
Rather, with the world economy expected to contract nearly 5 percent this year, households are cutting back
sharply on spending. Among those who went into the pandemic in extreme poverty, hundreds of millions of
people are suffering an intensifying crisis over how to secure their basic dietary needs.
The pandemic has reinforced basic economic inequalities, none more defining than access to food.
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