New data about the novel coronavirus is shocking: Its impact on supply chains, humanitarian access, the global economy and food supplies threatens to double the number of severely hungry people this year.
For millions of these people, WFP is quite literally their only source of food. Without it, they face starvation.
more people could be pushed into severe hunger due to COVID-19 impacts
men, women and children depend on WFP for their daily survival
people could die every day if WFP doesn't get the funding it needs
How COVID-19 Threatens Global Food Security
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” says World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. That's because COVID-19 is highly risky to people living in countries with poor healthcare infrastructure. Without adequate equipment, healthcare professionals, or medical facilities to treat the disease, an outbreak could be even more deadly.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Risks it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/Simon Pierre Diouf
Social Safety Nets
Economic and nutritional safety net systems are critical lifelines for vulnerable people affected by COVID-19. However, many developing countries lack these kinds of programs, which will make it even harder for people to feed themselves in the event of an outbreak. In fact, less than 20 percent of people living in low-income countries have access to social protections of any kind. Even fewer have access to food-based safety nets.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Risks it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/Alexis Masciarelli
COVID-19 has turned out to be especially deadly for people who are elderly or whose health is already compromised, so it may be especially lethal for those who are already suffering from extreme hunger. Good nutrition is foundational to good health, and people who are malnourished are less capable of fighting off disease. For example, Africa’s 1.2 billion people face the highest percentage of undernourishment on the planet: more than 20 percent of the population. An outbreak of coronavirus there could be devastating.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Risks it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua
Border closures, limited staff, and grounded transportation could threaten food supply by causing breaks in food supply chains, shortages or price spikes. In many developing countries, millions of families already spend more than half of their income on food in normal circumstances, so any increase in the cost of food could be devastating.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Risks it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/REIN SKULLERUD
Economic decline, poverty and food insecurity often accompany one another. As we’ve already seen, COVID-19 is riling global markets, and there are fears it could cause the global economy to slow down or fall into a recession. For the millions of people who are already barely scraping by, economic upheaval could force them deeper into poverty and hunger.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Risks it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/Mohammed Awadh
Nearly 1.6 billion children in 188 countries (91% of students), are now out of school due to COVID-19. This means more than 12 million children are no longer receiving WFP school meals. For many, it was their only meal of the day, and without it they're at risk of becoming severely malnourished. WFP is doing everything it can to find alternatives including take-home rations and home delivery.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Threats it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/Mackenzie Rollins
Refugees & IDPs
COVID-19 is highly risky to refugees and internally displaced populations, many of whom live in crowded, makeshift camps. These families live very close to one another and lack adequate medical facilities to treat the disease. An outbreak within a camp could undermine years of progress that WFP has made as it's forced to put livelihood and resilience-building projects on hold.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Threats it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh
Over 50% of the world’s hungry people are small family farmers with fields of five acres or less. If they aren’t able to plant or harvest their crops because they’re sick, they won’t have enough food to feed themselves or get through the lean season.Source: COVID-19 and the 5 Major Threats it Poses to Global Food Security Photo: Courtesy of Rick Steves
WFP is tackling these challenges head-on with a three-pronged approach and responding in real time to changing needs on the ground.
1. Sustaining and scaling up
WFP's #1 priority is to continue serving nearly 90 million people this year in more than 80 countries. Wherever possible, it will aim to scale up its existing operations, food distributions and livelihood programs.
2. Supporting the global response
WFP is continuing to oversee logistics for the entire UN and global humanitarian community. This includes air, sea and land transportation, world-wide supply chains and warehouses, and MEDEVAC services for health workers.
3. monitoring & supplying Data
On behalf of the international community, WFP is providing real-time data tracking on changes in food availability, health care access and economies in vulnerable countries. This data is critical in rolling out the right solutions at the right time.
WFP's response to COVID-19
The United Nations World Food Programme is doing everything it can to make sure it can feed families in need and respond immediately to changes on the ground.
Having food in place before a disaster strikes is essential, so WFP is working day and night to pre-position 3 months’ worth of food in at-risk communities to ensure their supply isn’t interrupted. This way, food will be readily available even if trade is restricted, movement is halted, or in case of social unrest.
WFP is making sure its supply chains stay open amid a cascade of border closures and trade restrictions. Where corridors have closed, WFP has established new ones so that vital supplies can still be delivered. For example, its “last-mile” networks are helping to deliver medicines across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
WFP has sent over 90 shipments to 78 in response to COVID-19, including $1.4M worth of protective gear, emergency health kits, anesthetic kits, stretchers, thermometers, water purification supplies and logistics equipment. MEDEVAC services include 14 air ambulances and seven field hospitals.
A pandemic can sharply increase malnutrition rates, yet sick people need even more micronutrients to fight off infection. WFP is working overtime to make sure the most at-risk people – elderly, chronically ill, young children, newborns, pregnant and nursing women, and people living with HIV/TB – get the food they need.
Where schools are closed, WFP is finding alternatives like providing take-home rations, delivering food directly to students’ homes, and sending cash or food vouchers. Where schools are still open, the priority is on social distancing, improving access to water, and increasing hygiene and sanitation behaviors.
WFP is following best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations. That includes social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, and increasing the number of food distribution sites and times to reduce crowds. Education is also key, using pamphlets, posters and megaphones.
WFP is setting up international cargo hubs in Shanghai, Liege, Dubai, and Atlanta to coordinate and house the increased volume of supplies needed around the world. Cargo from these four hubs then moves to a global network of smaller regional hubs where critical supplies are distributed to the most vulnerable countries.
This is one area where WFP has scaled down. Biometrics – like fingerprinting or eye scans – are typically used to improve the speed and effectiveness of distributing food. But now, these methods pose a risk of spreading the virus. For that reason, in nearly all cases, WFP has suspended biometrics until they can be used safely again.
Never before has the United Nations World Food Programme needed to respond to an emergency in all of the countries where it operates at once. It's a huge job, pushing costs up, and we urgently need $350M to continue saving lives.
For real-time data on the number and location of coronavirus cases, visit John’s Hopkins' interactive map.
For real-time data on border closures and travel restrictions, visit the United Nations World Food Program interactive map.
For the first time in human history, there is a threat that every person on the planet is facing. Now is the time for us to come together as a global community and do everything we can to protect each other.
At this difficult and uncertain time, we are reaffirming our core belief: No one should die of something as preventable as hunger.
While COVID-19 may add new challenges to our work, it will never change that commitment.