The world stands on the brink of a food crisis worse than any seen for at least 50 years; the UN António Guterres has warned as it urged governments to act swiftly to avoid disaster.
For his latest policy brief on the pandemic, Guterres focused on the need to safeguard everyone’s access to food and adequate nutrition: for now, and in the future.
“Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food emergency that could have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults,” he said in a video message to accompany the launch.
As the Secretary-General pointed out, millions were already grappling with hunger and malnutrition before the pandemic.
While there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, more than 820 million people still do not get enough to eat, and numbers, no doubt, will rise.
Meanwhile, some 144 million children worldwide under the age of five are stunted, meaning they are too small for their age, mainly due to malnutrition.
A. Guterres added that even in countries with abundant food, COVID-19 risks disrupting food supply chains.
“Our food systems are failing, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse,” he said.
The UN policy brief lays out three main recommendations geared towards saving lives and livelihoods, which also support the transition to a greener future.
First, countries should designate food and nutrition services as essential, while also implementing protections for those who work in the sector.
“It means preserving critical humanitarian food, livelihood and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups,” the Secretary-General continued, “and it means positioning food in food-crisis countries to reinforce and scale up social protection systems.”
Authorities are also urged to scale up support for food processing, transport, and local markets, and to ensure food systems can continue to function by keeping trade corridors open.
A. Guterres said that relief and stimulus packages must reach the most vulnerable, including small-scale food producers and rural businesses.
The UN chief underlined the need to strengthen social protection systems for nutrition, which includes supporting the millions of children worldwide currently missing out on school feeding programs.
“Countries need to safeguard access to safe, nutritious foods, particularly for young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people, and other at-risk groups. And they need to adapt and expand social protection schemes to benefit nutritionally at-risk groups”, he said.
Looking beyond the pandemic, the Secretary-General called for transforming food systems to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable world.
“We cannot forget that food systems contribute up to 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, including 44 percent of methane, and are hurting biodiversity.”
A. Guterres urged countries to build food systems that address the needs of both producers and workers and to eradicate hunger by ensuring more people have access to healthy, nutritious food.