Written by Eric Pichon,
On 9 October 2020, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) ‘for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict’. Adding to a worrying rise in food insecurity, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic have pushed millions more people to the brink of famine. The WFP’s expertise on emergencies, often in conflict areas, has provided relief to the most fragile populations. The EU supports the WFP through funding, knowledge-sharing, and protecting its vessels from piracy in certain waters.
Food security during the coronavirus pandemic
The Global Report on Food Crises 2020 (GRFC 2020) counted 135 million acutely food-insecure people in 2019 in its analysis of 55 countries and territories – the highest figure since the first report in 2017. A September 2020 update of the report estimates that between 83 and 132 million more people might be under-nourished in 2020 due to the pandemic. This update – covering 26 of the 55 GRFC 2020 countries and territories, plus Togo – confirms that measures to combat the pandemic have compromised access to food for millions. Lockdown and quarantine measures have reduced economic activity and revenue for both households and governments, while infected people have had to face increased health expenditure. The measures also disrupted the food supply chain. Despite the fact that most countries endeavoured to keep essential food and agricultural activities running, lockdown and border closures have hindered food transport and trade, leading also to higher levels of food loss. Food shortages caused by this disruption, combined with revenue losses, have increased nutritional deficiencies for the already most fragile populations, including those with higher nutritional needs such as aged and sick persons, pregnant and lactating women. The first year of the pandemic may have caused more than 120 000 additional nutrition-related child deaths in low- and middle-income countries. Moreover, Covid‑19 restrictions have complicated humanitarian access and therefore obstructed food supply for refugees, internally displaced persons, and other victims of man-made and natural disasters (such as internally displaced persons in central Africa,
Venezuelan migrants or Syrian refugees). Coronavirus concerns have also distracted global attention from other crises. Most development aid providers – including the EU and its Member States – have reoriented their funds towards coronavirus-related programmes and projects. Vaccination campaigns against other diseases have slowed. Peace-keeping missions have been scaled back, while at the same time coronavirus-related measures have exacerbated tensions and triggered unrest due to their economic consequences or their impact on freedom of assembly, leaving room for jihadist and other armed groups in fragile countries to operate. This will have a direct impact on food security, as conflict and insecurity are one of the main drivers of food crises (and the primary driver in 22 countries, see Figure 1). The Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee underlines that not only does conflict create hunger, and hunger trigger conflicts, but hunger can also ‘be used as a weapon’, despite its prohibition under international humanitarian law.
Read the complete ‘at a glance’ on ‘World Food Programme: Food for peace‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.