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Facing a Global Hunger Crisis

By Atul Tandon

Last week, the Associated Press, citing recent UN research, reported, “All around the world, the coronavirus and its restrictions are pushing already hungry communities over the edge, cutting off meager farms from markets and isolating villages from food and medical aid. Virus-linked hunger is leading to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic, according to an urgent call to action from the United Nations.”

Over 100,000 children will die because of hunger caused by COVID-19.

As I read this news, I was devasted. It feels like this year is one tragedy after another, and thinking about the impact COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have, on communities around the world is hard to even consider. Lives have been upended, and children’s very survival hangs in the balance. 

I think of the women who used to sell bread from Linda Nyarko’s bakery in Ghana. A few short months ago, they were working and earning a meager but sustainable income; today, they are asking their former boss for anything she can offer to help them feed their families. Linda is doing whatever she can to feed her team, but she is worried about her own family, too.  

Reading these reports and hearing from clients like Linda, here is what is clear: We are in the midst of a compounding global crisis.  

For months, the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our lives and upended economies. Communities around the world continue to face severe illness, economic shutdowns, and ongoing loss of life because of the coronavirus. 

The shutdowns and movement restrictions caused dramatic economic implications—leaving millions of people with greatly reduced incomes, or no way to earn a living at all. For many, work completely stalled for months, making it even more difficult for them to support their families. 

And as a result of this economic stagnation, we are now facing severe global hunger—especially for children in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. 

“An additional 6.7 million children under the age of five could suffer from ‘wasting’ — a form of acute malnutrition causing weakness, thinness, and an increased risk of death — in 2020 because of the economic fallout of COVID-19,” noted Global Citizen, in response to a horrifying report in the Lancet medical journal.  

And AP added that as many as “128,000 more young children will die over the first 12 months of the virus” because their families cannot purchase or grow food to feed them. Market closures prevent business owners from selling or purchasing goods; movement restrictions limit farmers’ ability to ship their crops; and without jobs, parents are not earning an income with which to purchase food. 

We sit on the precipice of famine, severe economic need, and even more lost lives. And in so many of the places we serve, there is no social safety net. There is no backup plan.  

So what do we do?  

As medical providers and emergency response teams stepped to the frontlines of the health crisis, organizations like Opportunity International have transformed into financial first responders, addressing the poverty at the root of severe hunger. 

We respond—now and for the long haul. Together, we step to the frontlines of this hunger and poverty crisis and do what we have done for decades—create opportunities for families to support themselves and feed their children. 

We help clients build their own safety nets and make their own back-up plans. We help them weather even the most severe storms.  

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Opportunity launched a Rapid Response Fund to address the immediate needs of our clients. Through this emergency funding, we have been able to:

  • Amplify health education messages to protect staff, clients, and families from COVID-19 infection.
  • Help farmers continue to grow crops, get their harvests to market, and access important inputs like seed and fertilizer. 
  • Forgive or restructure loans so that our clients have cash on-hand to cover critical daily expenses like food for their children. 
  • Engage teachers and school proprietors so that they can keep their schools afloat.
  • Keep banks open with appropriate health protocols and expand access to digital services so that clients can continue to access their savings accounts and loans. 
  • Educate and equip marginalized communities as they fight COVID-19. 

Now, as the crisis escalates for our clients, we refuse to give up. 

In so many ways, Opportunity’s COVID-19 response is just getting started—because the severity of the virus’s impact on our clients’ lives continues to grow. 

Helping our clients survive the pandemic is our first order of business. Now, we must keep them working, farming, learning, growing, and fed. 

Through our global network of partners and tens of thousands of local staff, we continue to serve those living in poverty around the world. We remain committed to helping families build sustainable livelihoods so they can earn an income, support themselves, and feed their children.   

For our clients, surviving this crisis means more than simply protecting against the virus. It means weathering all the storms that come with it. 

Read the full Associated Press story at https://apnews.com/5cbee9693c52728a3808f4e7b4965cbd and support Opportunity’s ongoing work supporting families in Africa, Asia, and Latin America at opportunity.org. 

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