Poverty and food insecurity could grow dramatically as COVID-19 spreads

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As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, social and economic relief measures—including fiscal stimulus and expansion of social safety nets—are crucial to prevent poverty and hunger from rising dramatically in developing countries. Rob Vos, David Laborde and Will Martin estimate this impact globally, finding that over 140 million additional people could fall into extreme poverty in 2020, including 80 million in Africa and 42 million in South Asia. Food insecurity would rise along with poverty. Without support, this global health crisis could thus cause a major poverty and food crisis.—Johan Swinnen, series co-editor and IFPRI Director General.

Cases of COVID-19 worldwide have grown exponentially since our previous analyses of the pandemic’s impacts on global staple food markets and poverty and hunger. On March 10, the number infections had just passed 110,000 with about 4,000 deaths. In the month since, the number of people with COVID-19 has increased 20-fold (to over 2 million) and the number of deaths more than 30-fold (to over 135,000). The epicenter of the pandemic shifted from China to Europe and then to the United States. The coronavirus is now spreading rapidly in low- and middle-income countries, many of which lack robust health systems or strong social safety nets that can soften the pandemic’s public health and economic impacts.

More than half of the world population is currently under some form of social distancing to contain the health crisis. As a result, millions of businesses have had to close shop. The ILO anticipates 200 million workers could be thrown into unemployment. In the U.S. alone, virtually overnight, 22 million people lost their jobs in early April. Governments in Europe and the U.S. have promised unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus measures to compensate for the income losses of businesses and workers and contain an inevitable economic crisis. But the relief responses of low- and middle-income countries have thus far been more limited.

This blog post is part of a special series of analyses on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on national and global food and nutrition security, poverty, and development. The blog series is edited by IFPRI director general Johan Swinnen and A4NH director John McDermott. See the full series here.

Photo credit: Sumit Saraswat/Shutterstock

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