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Access to food grossly unequal as coronavirus adds to challenges

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A new report by the World Food Programme, known as the Cost of a Plate of Food 2020, has once again exposed the inequality around the world of accessing the simplest plates of food.

South Sudan is once again top of the list, with basic ingredients costing a staggering 186 percent of a person’s daily income. Seventeen of the top 20 countries featured in the index are in sub-Saharan Africa.

“This new report exposes the destructive impact of conflict, climate change and economic crises, now compounded by COVID-19, in driving up hunger,” said WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley. “It’s the most vulnerable people who feel the worst effects. Their lives were already on the edge – prior to the coronavirus pandemic we were looking at the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II – and now their plight is so much worse as the pandemic threatens nothing less than a humanitarian catastrophe”.

The report highlights conflict as a central driver for hunger in many countries, as it forced people from their homes, land and jobs, drastically reducing incomes and the availability of affordable food. The close connection between food security and peace was underlined last week when WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work fighting hunger.

In the country with the most expensive plate of food, South Sudan, violence in the east has already displaced more than 60,000 people and is crippling harvests and livelihoods. This has combined with COVID-19 and climate shock to create the threat of famine. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, the daily income spent on food by someone living in South Sudan has risen 27 points to 186 percent. If a resident in New York State had to pay the same proportion of their salary for a basic meal, the meal would cost US$393.

The Cost of a Plate of Food 2020 report is released as WFP estimates that the lives and livelihoods of up to 270 million people will be under severe threat in 2020, unless immediate action is taken to tackle the pandemic.

Burkina Faso is featured for the first time, with a surge in conflict along with climate changes, being the main drivers.  The number of people facing crisis levels of hunger has tripled to 3.4 million people, while famine threatens 11,000 living in the northern provinces. Burundi is also on the index, as political instability, steep declines in remittances and disruptions to trade and employment leave it exposed to growing hunger.

Haiti is also featured among the top 20, with consumers spending more than a third of their daily incomes on a plate of food – the equivalent of US$74 for someone in New York State. Imports account for more than half of food and 83 percent of rice consumed in Haiti, making it vulnerable to inflation and price volatility in international markets, especially during crises such as the current global pandemic.

“People in urban areas are now highly susceptible too, with COVID-19 leading to huge rises in unemployment, rendering people powerless to use the markets they depend on for food. For millions of people, missing a day’s wages means missing a day’s worth of food, for themselves and their children. This can also cause rising social tensions and instability,” said WFP Executive Director Beasley.

WFP’s support includes providing food and cash assistance, and helping governments extend their own safety nets. In South Sudan, on top of regular assistance to 5 million people, WFP will assist an additional 1.6 million – mostly in urban settings.

In the longer term, effective food systems are essential for access to affordable, nutritious food. WFP’s procurement of food means it has a critical role to play in improving the systems that produce food and bring it to people’s tables.

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