Many of the world’s lowest-income countries, already hit hard by Covid-19, are facing another issue: rising food prices.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected not only their public health conditions, but also the broader conditions of markets, prices, government revenues and international trade.
Part of this inequality can now be seen in relation to the price of food in many poor countries.
The World Food Program food price monitoring map, above, shows the average change in the sum of the summarized prices over three months for a basket of staple food products (wheat, rice, corn, meat, cooking oil, etc.) , Compared to the base country price measures for those goods.
The bottom line is that people in large parts of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, have seen extreme changes in their ability to buy essential calories. This is most severe in Lebanon, for reasons closely linked to the economic collapse. But there are similar trends, if a little less catastrophic, that occur in Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and most of the Sahel region in Nigeria and Cameroon.
Southeast Africa is showing similar problems. In southern Madagascar, this is mainly due to crop failures affected by drought over regional conditions that are potentially related to climate change. In Mozambique, similar factors combine with ongoing conflict.
These price changes are complicated by pandemic-related job losses. Studies in South Africa, for example, have shown wide reductions in employment since the onset of the pandemic. One study in particular shows an employment decline of approximately 40%.
FEWS NET measures for short- and medium-term food insecurity make the picture even clearer.
In East Africa, food insecurity is at emergency levels in the Tigray conflict zone, but at crisis levels in most countries. In West Africa, the conflict zone in northern Nigeria is experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity. So are other pockets, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
In South Africa, food insecurity is at emergency levels in southern Madagascar, northern Mozambique, eastern Congo and the pockets of Malawi.
Food insecurity emergency levels are found throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Direct Relief partners operating nutrition programs have reported increased need in their communities. For example, on Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras, a partner reported that approximately half of the island’s households had lost a source of income due to the pandemic. Some partners have shown plans to implement nutritional programs to meet the growing needs of their patients.
The World Bank now estimates that approximately 97 million people worldwide will be pushed into extreme poverty this year, due to a combination of pandemic and related economic shocks. The low rate of Covid-19 vaccination in many poor countries is adding to these issues by delaying or slowing down economic improvements.
If severe catastrophes occur – such as Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which devastated areas of Central America last year – in these areas, all of these measures are likely to become harsher.