The pandemic is deepening global hunger till today
Even at a time when thousands of people died and millions lost their jobs when the Covid-19 pandemic engulfed South Africa last year, Thembakazi Stishi, an unmarried mother, was able to feed her family with the steadfast support of her father, an engineer. in a Mercedes factory.
When another wave struck in January, Stishi’s father became infected and died within days. She looked for a job, even door-to-door as a cleaner for $ 10 – to no avail. For the first time, she and her children go to bed hungry.
“I try to explain to them that our situation is different now, no one works, but they do not understand,” said Stishi, 30. “This is the hardest part.”
The financial catastrophe that broke out due to Covid-19, has affected millions of people like the Stishi family. But now in South Africa and many other countries, the limits of endurance have been exceeded.
An estimated 270 million people will face potentially life-threatening food shortages this year – up from 150 million before the pandemic – according to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The number of people on the brink of starvation, the most serious phase of the problem, rose to 41 million from 34 million last year, the analysis showed.
The World Food Program has sounded the alarm in a joint report with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, warning that “the conflict, the economic impact of Covid-19 and the climate crisis are expected to lead to higher levels of acute food insecurity over the next four months “, mainly in Africa, but also in Central America, Afghanistan and North Korea.
The situation is particularly bleak in Africa, where new infections have increased. In recent months, aid agencies have sounded the alarm for Ethiopia – where the number of people affected by famine is higher than anywhere else in the world – and southern Madagascar, where hundreds of thousands are watching the famine after an extremely severe drought. .
For years, global hunger has been steadily rising as poor countries face crises of a variety of causes, from armed groups to extreme poverty. At the same time, droughts and climate-related floods have intensified, and the ability of affected countries to respond before the next catastrophe has been shattered.
But over the past two years, the financial shock from the pandemic has accelerated the crisis, according to humanitarian groups. In both rich and poor countries, queues of people who have lost their jobs gather outside food warehouses.
As a new wave of the virus hits the African continent, famine has become a defining feature of the growing gap between rich countries returning to normalcy and poorer nations plunging deeper into crisis.
“I have never seen a situation as bad globally as it is now,” said Amer Daoudi, senior operations director at the World Food Program, describing the state of food security. “Usually you have two, three, four crises – like conflicts, famine – at the same time. But now we are talking about several important crises that occur simultaneously around the world. “
In South Africa, which was typically considered one of the safest nations on the continent in terms of food crisis, famine has brought the whole country to its knees.
Over the past year, three catastrophic waves of the virus have killed tens of thousands of workers – leaving families unable to buy food. The closure of schools eliminated the free meals that fed about nine million students. A severe government lockdown last year shut down informal food vendors in cities, forcing some of the country’s poorest residents to travel farther to buy groceries and shop in more expensive supermarkets.
An estimated three million South Africans lost their jobs, raising their unemployment rate to 32.6% – a record high since the government began collecting quarterly data in 2008. In rural areas, perennial droughts have killed animals and maimed farmers’ incomes.
The South African government provided some relief by introducing $ 24 a month in benefits last year and other social benefits. By the end of the year, nearly 40% of all South Africans were still on the brink of starvation, according to an academic study.
In the village of Duncan, the vast town in the Eastern Cape province, tens of thousands of families have been displaced.
Before the pandemic, the orange and turquoise sea of corrugated metal shacks and concrete houses buzzed every morning as workers boarded minibuses to the heart of nearby East London. An industrial hub for car assembly plants, textiles and processed foods, the city offered stable jobs and stable incomes.
“We always had enough – we had a lot,” said Anelisa Langeni, 32, who lives with her father and twin sister in Duncan Village.
For almost 40 years, her father worked as a machine operator at the Mercedes-Benz plant. When he retired, he had saved enough to build two more family homes on their plot – rental units that he hoped would provide some financial stability for his children.
The pandemic overturned these plans. Within weeks of the first lockdown, tenants lost their jobs and could no longer pay rent. When she was fired from her job at a seafood restaurant and her sister lost her job at a popular pizzeria, they relied on their father’s $ 120 monthly pension.
Then, in July, he contracted the coronavirus and died at the hospital. “I could not breathe when I was told,” Langeni said. “My father and everything we had was lost.”
Unable to find work, he turned to two older neighbors for help. But when a new coronavirus mutation struck the province in November, neighbors’ families lost members.
“I never imagined it would be like that,” said one neighbor who lost her daughter.
Two hundred miles west, in the Karoo area, the situation apart from the pandemic has been aggravated by a drought that extends to its eighth year, turning a landscape that was once green with green bushes into a dull, gray area.
Zolile Hanabe, 70, sees most of his acres drying up. Having seen his father lose the family goats to the apartheid government, Mr. Hanabe was determined to have his own farm.
In 2011, almost 20 years after the end of apartheid, he used the savings from his job as a school principal to rent a farm, buying five cattle and 10 goats. They grazed in the bushes and drank water from a river that crossed the estate.
“This farm would be my heritage, this would be passed on to my children,” he said.
By 2019, it was still leasing the farm and as the drought intensified, the river dried up, 11 of its cattle died, and the bushes shrank. He bought fodder to keep the others alive, which cost him $ 560 a month.
The pandemic added to his problems, he said. To reduce the risk of infection, he fired two of his three assistants. Feed sellers also cut staff and increased prices, pushing their budget even further.
“I thought one of these crises, I could survive,” Hanabe said. “But all?”