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COVID-19 helping to fuel global hunger


‘How do you tell a hungry man to sit at home?’

November 29, 2020

Paul Raja Rao Valaperla hands a prize to a woman at an event celebrating rural women farmers. (Photo by Valery Nodem)

With the coronavirus continuing to infect scores of people daily worldwide, the number of people experiencing acute hunger is expected to skyrocket globally, and some partners of the Presbyterian Hunger Program say the economic ramifications of the pandemic already are hurting the ability of people around the globe to feed themselves and their families.

In India, “hunger is really rampant,” partially because of multiple lockdowns that have occurred due to COVID-19, said Paul Raja Rao Valaperla,  who chairs Chethana, the PHP Joining Hands network in that country. “We have a lot of malnourishment,” especially among women and children.

Around the world, the number of people facing acute food insecurity could rise to 265 million in 2020, a near doubling from 2019’s estimated 135 million people, according to a recent projection from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The projection was released in conjunction with the latest Global Report on Food Crises, a project of WFP and 15 other humanitarian and development partners.

In the report’s foreword, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The number of people battling acute hunger and suffering from malnutrition is on the rise yet again. … And the upheaval that has been set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic may push even more families and communities into deeper distress.”

Calling for action, Guterres went on to say, “We must redouble our efforts to fight hunger and malnutrition.”

This is an issue that should be on everyone’s radar, even as the United States grapples with problems of its own, said Valery Nodem, PHP’s international associate for hunger concerns.

“When we talk about loving our neighbors, it’s recognizing when our neighbors are in trouble as we are ourselves,” he said. “The world has gone through a lot of crises and we can only survive this crisis if we remember that we need to work together.”

Loving our neighbors and thinking about our neighbors around the world “would be the best start,” Nodem said.

As lockdowns are put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, people know various parts of the world — including India, Nigeria and Haiti — find themselves in a precarious position. Many people depend on being able to go out each day to make money, often in the informal sector, and to secure food and other necessities.

“How do you tell a hungry man to sit at home? How do you tell him to observe social distancing when he has like 20 mouths to feed? He must go out (in order) to eat,” said Peter M. Egwudah, program coordinator for PHP partner CISCOPE in Nigeria.

Likewise in Haiti, where people also have been advised to stay in, “if they don’t go out to have something to eat, they will die,” said Fabienne Jean, who coordinates FONDAMA, the Joining Hands network in Haiti.

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), said, “What we are seeing now, in the midst of the pandemic, is theologically, an apocalypse— an uncovering or laying bare of inequities and unaddressed systemic problems that contribute to food insecurity and increase the vulnerability of peoples. The crisis precipitated by the pandemic has deepened that vulnerability and pushed many communities perilously closer to famine.”

As part of its international response to pandemic, PDA has awarded nearly $1 million in grants in 56 countries. Many of the grants are being used for water, sanitation and hygiene projects to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — but some address food insecurity.

“PDA’s release of emergency COVID grants, placed in the hands of local leaders and agencies, is intended to support short-term efforts to alleviate hunger,” Kraus said. “We have in these efforts paid particular attention to areas experiencing famine or chronic food insecurity. Later interventions, as the pandemic continues and as resources become available, will focus on continuing our collaborative work with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, addressing famine in current and emerging locations with strategies to build long-term food security.”

Unlike in the United States, where many people can receive stimulus checks and unemployment benefits to get by during hard times, many developing countries do not have a strong safety net to support people when COVID-19 and other stressors hit, Nodem said.

Darla Carter, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, November 29, 2020, the First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

First Reading Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel Mark 13:24-37

Today’s Focus:  Global Hunger

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Julie Tonini, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Joel Townsend, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray:

God of miracles and mystery, take our loaves of bread to feed the hungry. May your Holy Spirit, O God, grow in us the ability to be Christ’s body, building a world in which all enjoy and participate in the abundance of your creation. Amen.

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