United Nations — Food security has become a priority in the Caribbean as COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions have hit the tourism-dependent region hard.
The International Development Bank predicted in July that for Caribbean destinations most dependent on tourism such as Saint Lucia, 12 to 20 percent of the workforce could be affected by the pandemic. That country’s Red Cross COVID-19 Project Manager Marva Daniel told IPS that the impact of tourism jobs losses on low-income households has been particularly devastating.
“With hotel closures food insecurity has really been drastic. We started since March delivering food parcels,” she said. “We’re now moving into a phase where we are going to be issuing food vouchers. That people can also get fresh food. With packaging we could only deliver items with a long shelf life. The vouchers will allow them to expand their diet buying fresh food, meat and dairy items,” she said.
With some countries in the Caribbean relying on tourism for as much as 90 percent of GDP and employment, hotel closures and empty cruise ports have been devastating for the economy – and for families. Many governments announced relief packages, but those measures were for a few months and set against the backdrop of a protracted pandemic. And while resorts are slowly reopening and inviting tourists to work safely from the Caribbean, across the region, millions of hospitality workers remain on the breadline.
Daniel told IPS that the Red Cross’s target is 2,300 households. She says the agency is providing food relief along with risk communications that includes placing banners on public buses, reminding people to protect themselves and others through the 3W’s – washing hands, wearing masks and watching their distance. The agency has also produced public service announcements promoting psycho-social support for the public and those hit by unemployment.
The challenges being faced in the Caribbean are not unique to the region. COVID-19 restrictions interrupted food supply chains globally. In countries already facing food shortages, millions of mothers, children and the most vulnerable are going hungry.
In April this year, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned that the world was facing a dual pandemic – COVID-19 and hunger. Last week, David Beasley told the 3rd Edition of the Paris Peace Forum that the international community must prioritise starvation, conflict and migration to stave off a worldwide food crisis.
“When I arrived at the WFP as Executive Director three years ago, the number of people on the brink of starvation was 80 million. That number spiked up to 135-145 million people in the last few years because of man-made conflict,” he said. “Now, COVID comes on the scene and with economic deterioration and the ripple effect around the world, we’re moving from 135 million people on the brink of starvation to 270 million.”
The U.N. says the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize-winning agency continues to work on the front lines “providing more aid than ever before”. This includes work in countries like Yemen, which Beasley describes as “undeniably the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe,” reeling from war, extreme weather events, sparse water resources and hunger worsened by the consequences of COVID-19.
The WFP spent over $8 billion in humanitarian assistance in 2020, but Beasley estimates that it will need twice that amount next year. He says the international community must put more resources into combating starvation.
“2021 is going to be a very, very difficult year,” he said. “Let me be clear – if we don’t get the money we need in the strategic locations, you will have famine, destabilisation and mass migration. It’s that simple.”
Madagascar’s President Andy Rajoelina told the Paris Peace Forum, which ended on Friday, Nov. 13, that his country’s COVID-19 containment measures dealt a blow to food production.
“Food scarcity was made worse by the pandemic,” he said. “This was particularly true for the most isolated regions of Madagascar like the south, where the population was already suffering from chronic malnutrition and in some cases were starving.”
Rajoelina said his government is aware that millions of people in Madagascar must leave home every day to find food and for them, the lockdowns meant loss of jobs, food shortages and fear for the future. He said his administration is working with the international community to provide food and medical supplies to the most vulnerable, prioritising malnutrition and starvation in the country’s south – a region he concedes has been neglected for far too long.
For regions in the Global South, COVID-19 is hampering efforts to achieve the U.N. goal to eradicate hunger by 2030. Food security is a fundamental human right and the humanitarian agencies say with movement, climate change and now the pandemic, help is needed to remain on course.
Meanwhile, Daniel told IPS that volunteers are bringing relief in an environment with a different set of protocols than they are used to, now interacting with the community from a safe distance. A food drive is taking place as officials in Saint Lucia deal with a double public health emergency – curbing the spread of COVID-19 and a Dengue outbreak. Daniel is also working with a looming deadline for this level of humanitarian assistance.
“Sadly, this component of the programme will end in December. We will continue as best as we can after that, but the food vouchers will be done by year-end,” she told IPS.