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Hunger in the wake of the coronavirus could kill more than the disease

June 9, 2020

An additional 122 million people could be on the brink of starvation this year due to the economic impact of the pandemic. By the end of the year, as many as 12,000 people could die every day from hunger in the wake of COVID-19, more than the number of people dying from the virus itself. Meanwhile, the eight largest food and beverage companies are paying out $18 billion to their shareholders.

Mariam holds her daughter in her arms in the Kaya internal refugee camp in Burkina Faso. Mariam is wearing a green sports shirt and a blue skirt.

Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui.

"We don't have enough to eat. If we want food in the evening, we have to reduce our lunch," says Mariam Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso.

Oxfam's new report, The Hunger Virus, shows that an additional 122 million people could be on the verge of starvation this year due to the social and economic impact of the pandemic. These include mass unemployment and disruption of food production and supply.

"COVID-19 is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the effects of conflict, climate change, inequality and a dysfunctional food system that has left millions of workers and producers living in poverty. Meanwhile, the people at the top continue to profit: eight of the largest food and beverage companies have paid out $18 billion to shareholders since January as the pandemic spreads around the world - ten times more than the UN says is needed to prevent people from going hungry."

Chema Vera, Interim International Director at Oxfam.

The pandemic has exacerbated the food situation in the ten most hunger-stricken places in the world, such as Venezuela and South Sudan. But new epicentres of hunger have also emerged - middle-income countries such as India, South Africa and Brazil.

  • Brazil
    Millions of poor workers have lost their income due to the shutdown. India: Travel restrictions have prevented people from other countries from working during the harvest season, forcing Indian farmers to leave their harvest in the fields where the crops are rotting.
  • Yemen
    Money sent to people in the country from relatives and friends abroad has dropped by 80 percent as a result of the mass loss of jobs in the Gulf countries. Closed borders and supply routes have led to food shortages and increased food prices in the country that imports 90% of all food.
  • Sahel
    Movement restrictions have prevented herders from moving their animals to new pastures, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people.

Kadidia Diallo, a female dairy farmer from Burkina Faso tells Oxfam:

"Covid-19 is causing us a lot of damage. Giving my children something to eat in the morning has become difficult. We are completely dependent on the sale of milk and with the closure of the market we cannot sell anymore. If we don't sell milk, we don't eat."

Women are at greater risk of hunger and have been hit hard by the economic impact of the pandemic, including a dramatic increase in unpaid domestic and care work as schools close and family members fall ill.

"Governments must stop the spread of this deadly disease, but it is equally important that they act to prevent as many, if not more, people from dying of hunger," said Chema Vera, Interim International Director of Oxfam.

Since the start of the pandemic, Oxfam has reached 4.5 million people with food and clean water by working with 344 partners in 62 countries.