Covid-19 Fuels Fears of Global Hunger

In poor regions of the world, the new coronavirus is temporarily masking another problem: hunger.

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.

Further, more than 550,000 additional children each month are being struck by what is called wasting, according to the U.N. — malnutrition that manifests in spindly limbs and distended bellies. Over a year, that’s up 6.7 million from last year’s total of 47 million. Wasting and stunting can permanently damage children physically and mentally, transforming individual tragedies into a generational catastrophe.

“The food security effects of the Covid crisis are going to reflect many years from now,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, the World Health Organization head of nutrition. “There is going to be a societal effect.”

Dr. Coumbo Boly, a pediatrician at Yalgado Ouedraogo University Hospital in the capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, fears an oncoming tidal wave of hunger.

“We are expecting the number of malnourished to multiply by two, three, or even five times around November/December, when it’s usually the harvest season,” she said. “But he who hasn’t sowed cannot harvest.”

In some places, malnutrition is already on the rise.

Four hours to the south west, in Tuy region, month old Haboue Solange Boue has already lost half her body weight. Her mother is too malnourished to produce milk.

Underweight births are reportedly up 40 percent in Tuy, one of the country’s leading grain producing areas.

In countries already wracked by war and famine, economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus has piled woe upon woe.

The United Nations says undernourished children are dying at a rate of about 10,000 a month around the world. The number of children struck by wasting disease is up nearly 7 million from last year.

David Beasley, Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Program, recently told the world body’s Security Council that the globe is on the brink of a hunger pandemic.

“There are no famines yet,” he said. “But I must warn you that if we don’t prepare and act now to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade, we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”

In Afghanistan. transport lockdowns and coronavirus fear have meant fewer children travelling from the provinces to paediatric hospitals, like the Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in the capital Kabul.

“We had 30 to 40 malnourished children last year, sometimes we were putting two children in one bed,” said Dr. Nematullah Amir. “We have 14 malnourished children now.”

Burkina Faso was already facing a growing food crisis before coronavirus spread across the country. An Islamist insurgency has cut families off from their farms and forced nearly a million people from their homes.

Aminata Mande’s 14-year-old daughter, Nafissetou Niampa, could hardly hold her head up during a recent visit to the university hospital.

“During the disease, my child couldn’t go to the market to buy food, and we suffered because of the disease,” Mande said. “Before the disease, we didn’t have anything. And now with the disease we don’t have anything also.”Hassan Maiyaki, Burkina Faso chief of mission for Doctors Without Borders, said aid groups are rushing to prepare for the worst.

“It’s quite worrying, and it requires a lot of vigilance and attention,” he said.
Dr. Boly is bracing not only for more cases of malnutrition, but more severe ones.

“Before coronavirus, we already had a situation that was more or less difficult,” she said.

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In This Story: Afghanistan

Afghanistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is bordered by Pakistan to the east and south; Iran to the west; Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north; and China to the northeast.

Occupying 652,000 square kilometers (252,000 sq mi), it is a mountainous country with plains in the north and southwest. Kabul is the capital and largest city. The population is around 32 million, composed mostly of ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks.

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    The July 2019 population estimate by the United Nations was 20,321,378. Previously called Republic of Upper Volta (1958–1984), it was renamed “Burkina Faso” on 4 August 1984 by President Thomas Sankara. Its citizens are known as Burkinabé, and its capital is Ouagadougou.

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