More people could die daily from COVID-19 linked hunger than virus itself

Oxfam is warning that hunger linked to COVID-19 could kill as many as 12,000 people a day by the end of the year, potentially claiming more lives each day than the disease itself.

The shocking forecast is published today in a new briefing, The Hunger Virus, which noted the global daily COVID-19 death toll reached its peak in April at just over 10,000 deaths a day.

The briefing reveals how 122 million more people could be pushed to the brink of starvation this year as a result of the social and economic fallout from the pandemic, including through mass unemployment, disruption to food production and supplies, and dwindling humanitarian aid.

Ten extreme hunger hotspots – that account for 65% of people facing crisis level hunger – were identified: Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, the West African Sahel, Sudan, and Haiti.

The briefing also highlighted:

  • 8 of the 10 extreme hunger hotspots are also affected by high levels of violence and insecurity.
  • In Yemen, an 80% drop in remittances so far this year has made it more difficult for Yemenis to purchase food, at the same time as shortages fuel price increases for essentials such as wheat.
  • In Afghanistan, the number of people on the brink of famine rose by one million in the eight months to May, with an Oxfam survey revealing that 74% of respondents did not have access to food, as food prices rose dramatically.
  • Up to half of Venezuelan migrants may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, helping force the return of 80,000 people to Venezuela, an extreme hunger hotspot.

Oxfam Australia Acting Chief Executive Anthea Spinks said it was clear that not even Australians were safe from the flow-on impacts of this health crisis, particularly hunger.

“We’ve seen that this virus has exacerbated the extreme inequality that exists in our society, no matter where in the world you may happen to live,” Ms Spinks said. “Coronavirus is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, climate change, and extreme inequality.”

“It’s alarming that while the needs continue to grow exponentially, the support for people living in countries without a social safety net is stagnating, with just a fifth of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan funded.”

Women, and those who live in households headed by women, are more likely to go hungry as they are already vulnerable because of systemic discrimination that sees them earn less and own fewer assets than men. They also make up a large proportion of groups, such as informal workers, that have been hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, and have borne the brunt of a dramatic increase in unpaid care work as a result of school closures and family illness.

Climate change is another important factor in driving up food insecurity globally, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimating it could push up to 183 million more people into hunger by 2050.

Ms Spinks said the briefing highlighted the need for governments to act now to not only contain the spread of coronavirus, but to protect people from the deadly impacts of extreme hunger.

“Oxfam is calling on the Australian Government to commit an additional $2 billion of foreign aid over three years to help aid agencies respond to the immediate and ongoing impacts of the coronavirus crisis,” Ms Spinks said.

“It’s important that that aid not only supports our near neighbours, but those living with extreme hunger in other parts of the world, such as Yemen and East Africa, who also need urgent assistance.

“The Government must also take meaningful action to tackle climate change and ensure that our economic recovery aligns with our responsibility to help limit global heating to 1.5 degrees.”

Since the pandemic began, Oxfam has reached 4.5 million of the world’s most vulnerable people with food aid and clean water, working together with over 344 partners across 62 countries.

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