As 2020 is nearing its end, humanity is staring at a hunger pandemic, created, in part, by the Coronavirus pandemic that will transition with us into the next year. COVID-19 started as a health crisis and rapidly gripped the world, impacting every facet of day-to-day life, every aspect of the community, nation’s economy, and tearing down social and economic dividends earned over decades. Though the focus has been on a medical breakthrough – particularly on delivering a vaccine and ensuring equitable access to it – there is a need for equal and even greater focus on securing the basic needs of millions of people living in poverty, in conflict areas, displaced by climate crises and at risk of marginalisation.
Averting Hunger Pandemic
Access to food and ensuring food security must emerge as the centre-piece of the COVID-19 response, with the lockdown and disruption of livelihoods pushing people into hunger and exacerbating hunger for millions already living on the brink of starvation.
The pandemic has made life difficult for everyone but has been worse for those living with hunger, vulnerable, and those living with food insecurity.
At the recent Nobel Peace Prize acceptance ceremony held in Rome, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) said millions of people were marching towards starvation and there is a need for urgent action to avert a ‘hunger pandemic’.
We stand at what may be the most ironic moment in modern history. On the one hand – after a century of massive strides in eliminating extreme poverty, today those 270 million of our neighbours are on the brink of starvation. That’s more than the entire population of Western Europe. On the other hand, there is $400 trillion of wealth in our world today. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic, in just 90 days, an additional $2.7 trillion of wealth was created. And we only need $5 billion to save 30 million lives from famine, said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 has been conferred on WFP 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.
Leaving No One Behind: Inclusion In Food Safety Nets
The COVID-19 emergency work on addressing hunger is more urgent than ever; this is because enabling access to nutritious food is the best vaccine we can have at this time (given the health crisis the world faces). Furthermore, the inclusion of those who remain excluded from mainstream food safety nets must be at the heart of hunger and food safety response. It means an unwavering focus on the execution of the slogan of ‘leaving no one behind’.
The pandemic response has underlined the need to continue working on safety nets and food systems. The collective response by governments, community, private sector, civil society, and individuals to extend help to those in need, especially in providing food and nutritional security, has also thrown up inspiring examples of efficiency, coordination, supply chain management, and innovation, a number of them involving digital technology.
The Indian government’s timely and comprehensive response, building on one of the world’s largest food safety net by the way of its existing mammoth Public Distribution System (PDS) and Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), has shown how the understanding of vulnerability and the dynamic need of migrants on the move can be taken on board while expanding the remit of eligibility, to avert a food crisis.
If we wish to see a world free of hunger by 2030 and deliver our promise for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), governments, citizens, civil society organisations and the private sector must collaborate to invest, innovate and create lasting solutions for everyone.
We are facing a global fight to address one of the biggest challenges of our time. We must act now to build back better and make a difference in lives and communities everywhere, especially those left furthest behind who have no access to life-saving services and sleep hungry. Failure to address their needs could lead to a hunger pandemic that could even dwarf the impact of COVID-19.
As we think about them and the role each one of us can play to make a difference, it is important to bear in mind that ending hunger requires ‘all hands on the deck’ to ensure no one is left behind.
(Oscar Mundia is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Chief of Mission for India and Maldives. Bishow Parajuli is the Representative and Country Director to India for World Food Programme.)
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NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.