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06.11.2020 | Project Update

Coronavirus: a complex crisis for the poorest people

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed pressure on health systems and economies across the world. The consequences are concrete, especially for people in the poorest countries: day labourers are out of work, hunger levels are rising, domestic violence is on the rise and girls are being forced to marry at younger ages. Read on to learn how coronavirus is affecting the lives of the people in the countries we work in.

A woman with a mask and her child on her back
Madeline Shimuli, 22, with her daughter on her back, collects food donations and relief supplies in Nairobi, Kenya. © Welthungerhilfe
Iris Schöninger Team Communications

Our colleagues’ descriptions of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures associated with it vary greatly from country to country. This clearly shows that generalised solutions are ineffective, and that employees’ local knowledge is essential to providing proper support.

The situation in many countries was alarming even before the coronavirus outbreak. 690 million people were undernourished globally at the end of 2019. Some of the most vulnerable populations are currently facing armed conflicts, droughts, floods and locust plagues. COVID-19 is exacerbating these crises and driving up hunger levels.

Economic growth slumps

In countries such as South Sudan and Iraq, the sharp decline in state revenues due to falling oil prices means that government employees are no longer able to be paid and public services have been cut.

Ethiopia is one of the countries where several crises are converging. This year alone, the East African country has already had to deal with a locust plague and a cholera outbreak. It is estimated that the proportion of people suffering from acute malnutrition has increased by 15 to 20%. The pandemic also means that up to 30% of small and medium-sized companies are threatened with closure. This in turn is leading to job losses. The majority of people working in agriculture are affected, particularly day labourers and casual workers. Many of these people have no social security at all. In Malawi, 273,000 people have already lost their jobs in the last six months.

A smiling boy at a food distribution point
In the Indian capital Delhi, the organisation Jan Pahal, part of Welthungerhilfe’s partner network, supports thousands of day labourers and seasonal workers with regular meals. Due to the stay-at-home orders, they have lost their income and often also the roof over their heads. © Florian Lang/Welthungerhilfe

The consequences are already apparent

Food prices are rising and many people simply can no longer afford food. One reason for this is the interruption of supply chains. Limited amounts of food are reaching the cities from rural areas. As a result, people are resorting to less nutritious and cheaper food. Although these foods are filling, they do not provide people with micronutrients, meaning they are missing out on important vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The resulting hidden hunger can lead to developmental disorders and physical and mental impairment. In Iraq, 5.3 million people have already been affected.

Hunger and emergency situations also lead to increased domestic violence. Men no longer being able to fulfil their traditional role as “breadwinners” sometimes leads to frustration and violent conflicts within the families. As a result, families are forcing girls to marry earlier so they don’t have to provide for them, or to generate income through the bride price. With the closures of many schools, there has also been a sharp rise in teenage pregnancies. In Malawi, the number of cases has tripled to 20,000.

Key focus: emergency aid and sustainability

The Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund (DCPSF) launched an emergency response to COVID-19. These materials will improve access to essential WASH infrastructure and knowledge in rural communities in North Darfur. © UNDP
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Children in Kibera, Nairobi pick up relief supplies and Welthungerhilfe's coronavirus comic © Welthungerhilfe
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Preventative hygiene measures allow for harvesting to continue in Azaz, North Aleppo, as part of a UNOCHA-funded project © Welthungerhilfe
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Participants in a home gardening training session in Northern Iraq respecting coronavirus prevention measures © Welthungerhilfe
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WASH Committee (WASHCO) training sessions adapted to the COVID response continue in Ethiopia. WASHCOs manage rural water supplies at the community level. © Welthungerhilfe
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In addition to COVID-19, severe flooding is affecting people in Sudan and South Sudan. For hundreds of thousands of people, accessing food has become even more difficult. The affected areas have already been hit by droughts and one of the worst locust plagues in recent decades. Welthungerhilfe is providing emergency relief by supplying people with shelter, hygiene and sanitation products and food.

To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable in society, COVID-19 must be contained quickly and effectively. Welthungerhilfe is therefore providing information about hygiene measures, for example, in the form of comic strips. The comics help to demonstrate the measures, especially for those who cannot read, and to make the topic accessible to children. Additionally, hygiene kits as well as masks and soap are being distributed. Welthungerhilfe also provides emergency relief through cash transfers and food distribution. However, long-term projects are also necessary not only to overcome the crisis but also to achieve the goal of #ZeroHungerby2030.

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