Many of the world’s lower-income countries, already hit hard by Covid-19, are confronting another issue: rising food prices.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected not only their public health conditions, but also the broader conditions of markets, prices, government revenues, and international trade.
Some of this disparity can now be seen in terms of the price of food in many poorer countries.
The World Food Programme’s food price monitoring map, above, shows the aggregated average percentage change in prices over three months for a basket of staple food products (wheat, rice, maize, meat, cooking oil, etc.), relative to the baseline national measures of pricing for those goods.
The key takeaway is that people in large portions of the world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, have seen extreme changes in their ability to purchase essential calories. This is most severe in Lebanon, for reasons closely related to economic collapse. But there are similar, if slightly less catastrophic trends, occurring in Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, and across most of the Sahel region to Nigeria and Cameroon.
Southeastern Africa is showing similar problems. In southern Madagascar, this is principally related to drought-affected crop failures on top of regional conditions that are potentially connected to climate change. In Mozambique, similar factors are combined with ongoing conflict.
These changes in pricing are compounded by pandemic-related job losses. Studies in South Africa, for example, have shown broad decreases in employment since the start of the pandemic. One study in particular shows an employment decline of roughly 40%.
FEWS NET’s measures of short- and medium-term food insecurity make the picture even clearer.
In East Africa, food insecurity is at emergency levels in the Tigray conflict zone, but in crisis levels across most countries. In West Africa, the conflict area of northern Nigeria is experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity. So are other pockets, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
In Southern Africa, food insecurity is at emergency levels in southern Madagascar, northern Mozambique, eastern Congo, and pockets of Malawi.
Food insecurity emergency levels are found throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Direct Relief partners that operate nutrition programs have reported increased need in their communities. For example, on the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, one partner reported that approximately half the island’s households had lost a source of income due to the pandemic. Several partners have indicated plans to implement food programs to meet increased needs among their patients.
The World Bank now estimates that roughly 97 million people globally will be pushed into extreme poverty this year, due to a combination of the pandemic and related economic shocks. Low Covid-19 vaccination rates across many poorer countries are compounding these issues by delaying or slowing economic improvements.
Should severe disasters – such as Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which devastated areas of Central America last year – occur in these areas, all of these measures are likely to become more severe.