COVID-19 and the Need for International Food Aid – A Growing Body of Evidence

By: Julia Johnson

“So today, with COVID-19, I want to stress that we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.”

David Beasley, U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director made this statement to the U.N. Security Council last April, just one month after the novel coronavirus made waves in the United States and the masses understood its impact on livelihoods and supply chains.

It was at this time that humanitarian aid organizations and the agriculture community called on U.S. leaders and policymakers to address the coronavirus more aggressively abroad, in the countries where the world’s poor and vulnerable live. Many have also pushed specifically for food assistance as part of this response.

Since then, several reputable reports have confirmed what David Beasley and other food security stakeholders have warned: The coronavirus can and will continue to have severe impacts on food and nutrition security.

  • 2020 Global Report on Food Crises: The COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering from acute hunger, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020. In 2019, 135 million people were facing acute food insecurity. Due to the coronavirus, as many as 130 million additional people will also face acute food insecurity.
  • 2020 The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World: Current estimates are that nearly 690 million people are hungry, up by 10 million people in one year, and by nearly 60 million in 5 years. A preliminary assessment suggests that COVID-19 may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020.
  • USDA International Food Security Assessment, 2020-30: In 76 low and middle-income countries, there is estimated to be 761 million people considered food-insecure in this year. The report estimates the projected number of food insecure people to increase by 83.5 million in 2020 because of the shock to GDP caused by COVID-19.
  • USAID July 2020 FEWS Net Global Special Report: The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) estimates that 113 million people will need humanitarian assistance across 46 countries 2020. This is a 25% increase in needs relative to anticipated 2020 needs before the pandemic.
  • AGRA July Food Security Monitor Report: The most recent Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Food Security Monitor Report identified 15 “hunger hotspot” countries where food security situations are significantly deteriorating, mainly as a result of COVID-19 knock-on effects.

With this projected need, how are Congress and the Administration responding through their COVID-19 stimulus packages?

The CARES Act passed at the end of March and included $1.12 billion for the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps and for other programs funded via the annual State-Foreign Operations spending bill. It did not specifically set aside funding for food aid programs like Food for Peace Title II or the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program.

In the HEROES Act, passed last May by the House, there was no money for international food assistance, let alone international humanitarian aid. The Senate’s response to the HEROES Act, the HEALS Act, included $4.1 billion for USAID operating expenses, global health programs, and the International Disaster Assistance account to support vaccine distribution abroad. But yet again, there is no funding designated for food aid programs. This bill has not been voted on in the Senate yet.

Most recently, the Senate introduced a “skinny” COVID-19 stimulus package that does not include any money for international humanitarian aid or food aid programs.

As the body of evidence demonstrating the need for food aid as a result of the coronavirus continues to grow, so does support for humanitarian aid among both Democrats and Republicans. Negotiations on the next COVID-19 stimulus package continue to take place, and anti-hunger advocates remain vocal on the need for food assistance. Congress will return in September to likely vote on the next stimulus package. OFW will be tracking these negotiations and the final bill.

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