An overlooked, but detrimental element of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the food insecurity faced by millions throughout the United Nations (UN). Food insecurity refers to “a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.” In 2019, it was estimated that nearly 690 million, or 8.9 percent, of the world population went hungry. This number rose by nearly 10 million in just one year alone and this was before the pandemic began. Published in mid-2021, the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report estimated that between 720 and 811 million people went hungry in 2020. This increase in 2020, in large part due to the pandemic, was equal to the increase of the previous five years combined.
COVID-19 and the Effects on Food Insecurity
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the status of millions in terms of food security and nutrition, and has further exposed the weakness in our food systems that create some of these results. Disruptions to the typical way of living have had increased negative effects on essential nutritional interventions. Lack of these interventions, such as advocacy about the importance of healthy maternal nutrition and breastfeeding for young infants, is worrisome. It has been shown that malnutrition early in life can impact an individual’s health and productivity throughout their lifetime.
In 1945, the United Nations established a specialized agency titled the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The FAO’s goal was to help eliminate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition. Since 2010, FAO began preparing and developing Strategic Frameworks to help better articulate and track their progress. These Frameworks are reviewed every four years and span a period of ten to fifteen years. Most recently, the 2022-2031 Framework sought to support the 2030 Agenda created by the agency to promote better nutrition, more sustainable agri-food production, and reduce inequalities.
In addition to these Frameworks, all UN Member States adopted seventeen Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 meant as a universal call to action. These Goals were part of the larger 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Goal Two specifically dealt with defeating hunger. Despite the United Nations’ lofty goals, most recent projections show that the world is not on course to meet Goal Two, Zero Hunger by 2030. In countries where food deficit is prevalent, trade is a primary way in which economic gaps are filled where local production of commodities falls short. Trade brings in grains and other legumes to countries, feeding nearly 2.8 billion people each year. However, the pandemic has revealed the risks involved for food-importing countries, including increased price swings for these cereals.
Bold Actions to Tackle Food Insecurity
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen food security, some organizations have made efforts to mitigate this threat, especially in countries, such as Africa, that have been hit the hardest. The United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), is a UN initiative that works alongside higher education institutions to help support and contribute to the UN’s goals. Recognizing that Africa faced a uniquely difficult struggle due to existing pre-pandemic food insecurity, the University of Pretoria (UP), a member of UNAI, took strides to help African communities. UP helped support students by assessing “their nutritional needs and providing food supplies to enable them to continue their learning online without the added burden of food insecurity.” UP also provided support to parents by offering information on affordable, healthy food options and supporting policymakers on their work focused on children’s nutrition. In addition to this specific support in Africa, other countries have begun “integrating food security and nutrition into their agriculture policies and investment plans.” Such initiatives have improved food security and adequate nutrition in the strategies for regional development.
A meeting of the UN General Assembly in December 2021, called upon Member States to advance collective action by promoting sustainable practices that increase productive and production, strengthening information systems, bolstering international cooperation, financing recovery from the impact of COVID-19, and supporting farmers with assistance to enable them to produce their crops and livestock sustainably. Despite such initiatives, there is fear that if immediate action and big changes are not made soon, the 2030 targets for eliminating food insecurity will be missed.
The Future of Food Insecurity in UN Nations
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has led to worsening levels of food insecurity, it also compelled leaders and Member States to reevaluate their current systems for addressing the lack of financial resources available for food. The COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting access to consistent food for many and how the UN plans to implement their far-reaching goals and strategies will be something that many count on to survive and prosper.
Author Biography: Gabrielle Hangos is a Moderator of the International Law Society’s International Law and Policy Brief (ILPB) and a J.D. Candidate at The George Washington University Law School. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Political Science and Criminal Justice from The George Washington University