Director-General  QU Dongyu

Congressional Briefing Calls for Immediate Action to Prevent Hunger Crises amid COVID-19 Pandemic


19 May 2020, Washington/Rome - The pandemic will end, the health crisis will ease, but if we don’t protect the livelihoods of millions of people today and the food value chains, we will have to rebuild them tomorrow – at much greater cost, warned FAO Director-General QU Dongyu today at a Congressional Webinar Briefing.

The event - The Coming Crisis: Preventing a Hunger Catastrophe amid COVID-19 - was co-hosted by FAO North America and the Alliance to End Hunger with the House and Senate Hunger Caucuses, and highlighted the key findings of the recently released 2020 Global Report on Food Crises.                                                                                                         

COVID-19 - an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods

Congressman James McGovern, Co-Chair of the House Hunger Caucus stated: “when we look globally at the challenges in terms of global food insecurity and hunger, going back to normal is not acceptable.” He emphasized that “even before the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, the world was facing locusts, conflicts, and new waves of refugees. Now, there is the potential that we could all be facing a food security catastrophe of epic proportions.” 

Senator Richard Durbin, Co-Chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus said that “if it's tough enough in this country, imagine what it's like in underdeveloped countries and those that are facing greater than the United States”.

Senator Durbin stressed the importance of coming together in the same kind of bi-partisan partnership that resulted in the successful McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program to address hunger both in the United States and globally.

For his part, the FAO Director-General noted that in the light of the pandemic, one third of all jobs in the agri-food sector, are at risk, disrupting food systems and supply chains globally and making access to food difficult.

As the pandemic evolves in countries already affected by food crises, food access is a serious concern.

A situation where there is lack of food could also emerge if planting seasons are missed and food production drops, said Qu, urging for swift action and international cooperation to avert “numerous crises that the already stretched humanitarian community will struggle to respond to”.

On 18 May 2020, FAO appealed for $350 million to scale up hunger-fighting and livelihoods-boosting activities in food crisis contexts where COVID-19's impact could be devastating. 

“Even before the mayhem from the first wave of the global health crisis has abated, the second wave of economic recession resulting in joblessness and increasing poverty has hit, causing untold miseries around the globe,” said Vimlendra Sharan, Director of FAO North America in his opening remarks. “Riding on the back of these two waves the third wave of food insecurity is hurtling towards us, bringing a hunger catastrophe in its wake.”

27 Million People One Step Away from a Famine Situation

“In food crisis countries, we are extremely concerned about the increased deterioration of food security. There is a growing risk of multiple famines occurring at the same time,” stated Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division.

Africa remains the continent most affected by food crises, accounting for 54 percent (74 million people) of the global total number of 135 million people facing acute food insecurity across 55 countries and territories, according to the 2020 Global Food Crises Report. Furthermore, 27 million are one-step away from a famine situation.

FAO has recently revised its humanitarian response to COVID-19 to address new needs emerging from the pandemic, with new activities building upon critical livelihood-saving support currently already being delivered in high-risk countries. FAO’s response is part of the Global COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan.

During his closing remarks, Tony Hall, former US Ambassador to the UN Agencies in Rome and former Congressman from Ohio, highlighted the global and complex impacts of COVID-19 on global food systems as well as food and nutrition security. Stressing the need for governments to act now to protect the most vulnerable populations and to avert an unprecedented hunger catastrophe. 

“Children’s well-being, development and protection, including their access to education, food, safety and health, particularly those in vulnerable situations, is deeply concerning,” said Hall.

Building a resilient food system. The way to a post-COVID-19 world – better than the “old normal”

“We are at a transformative point in history. This is not just about crisis management, but about the challenges and opportunities to move to a more resilient food system in the future,” said Johan Swinnen, Director-General, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

He emphasized that the main impacts of COVID-19 on nutrition and food security come from food system disruptions and economic recession. “The poorest of the world, and in countries, are typically affected the strongest, so our response to the global crisis should – disproportionately - be focusing on the poorest people,” underlined Swinnen. 

The event, moderated by Rebecca Middleton, Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger, garnered more than 700 participants, including Congressional staffers, government representatives, and anti-hunger stakeholders from the public and private sectors.