The COVID-19 pandemic is a multiplier of vulnerability, compounding threats to food insecurity, while exposing weaknesses in food and health systems. It is severely undermining the capacity of communities to cope in times of crisis and has become a stress test for political and economic stability.
Although conflict and insecurity remain the main drivers of hunger, the added dimension of COVID-19 is exacerbating the ability of affected communities to cope. A drastic reduction of livelihood opportunities, employment and income, in addition to natural hazards such as cyclones, hurricanes, flooding and pests are pushing communities further into desperate circumstances. Restrictions on travel and movement of goods, quarantine measures and the corresponding economic fallout as a result of the pandemic are deepening the impact. In April 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 270 million people would become acutely food insecure in the countries of WFP presence by the end of the year if no action is taken; an 82 percent increase compared to the number of acutely food insecure pre-COVID.
The latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) assessments show dramatic increases in acute food insecurity across the globe. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, nearly 22 million people are facing crisis levels of food insecurity.
Burkina Faso has seen a tripling in the number of people falling into acute food insecurity as compared to the same period in 2019. In these countries as well as Yemen, South Sudan, the Sahel region of West Africa and northeastern Nigeria, COVID-19 has combined with conflict and climate shocks as a key driver of hunger. The pandemic has ushered hunger into the lives of more urban populations while placing the vulnerable, such as refugees, war torn communities and those living at the sharp end of climate change at higher risk of starvation. In Latin America, COVID-19 has caused the worst recession in a century. Based on a WFP assessment in August 2020, severe food insecurity had increased by 400 percent, rising from 4.3 million people in January to over 17 million in August 2020. These developments are indicative of the challenges in coping with the consequences of the pandemic and underline the need for WFP and partners to step up and continue to respond at scale.
Thanks to the generosity of donors for front-loading contributions, amounting to US$ 1.9 billion following the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic in March, through the end of June WFP was able to preposition food commodities, ensure continuity of cash-based programmes, sustain its operations and reach 85 million people in the frst half of the year. The WFP COVID-19 Global Response Plan launched in June set out a strategy to sustain this support for the already most vulnerable populations, but also highlighted the need to extend additional assistance to people facing increased hunger as a result of the pandemic, and support governments and partners with technical assistance, services and assets.
This update provides a snapshot of the implementation of the June Plan, how resources made available to date have enabled WFP to continue to deliver and expand assistance to meet new and emerging food security needs, and how WFP is planning to respond to the longer-term socioeconomic impact of the crisis on food security. More detailed information for each country operation is contained in the Annex.
The pandemic is requiring WFP country offices and regional bureaux to re-examine modalities to reach beneficiaries and adapt to new circumstances. With critical support from donors, WFP is scaling up cash-based transfers to mitigate the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, transferring US$ 1.15 billion to vulnerable people and communities across 64 WFP country offices in January-August this year. WFP is also adapting school meal programmes, including take-home rations for seven million schoolchildren. Other measures include increasing local purchases, with 553,000 metric tons of food sourced in countries of operation during the first half of 2020 – 17 percent more than in 2019 – while prepositioning food stocks and deploying staff to fill critical gaps and relieve field colleagues.
WFP has supported some 50 governments with their social protection interventions in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which includes providing key data, analysis, and technical support for vital social protection areas such as needs assessment, targeting, and verification, helping to monitor programming, operating community feedback mechanisms and providing third-party assurance services. More than half of WFP’s operations are now expanding direct assistance in urban areas, which are bearing a significant brunt of the crisis and account for 90 percent of COVID-19 cases.