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As incomes vanish amid the pandemic and remittances dry up, hunger and malnutrition increase. The COVID-19 pandemic threw the global economy into turmoil, causing it to contract by 3.1% in 2020 amid the most severe labour market disruptions since the Great Depression. That year, the equivalent of 258 million full-time jobs were lost. Projections for 2022 have suggested an extremely high working-hour deficit, equivalent to 52 million full-time jobs, and the effects of the pandemic on labour markets are expected to linger until at least 2023. Poor countries have suffered tremendously as remittance payments from their citizens working abroad plunged, tourism came to a standstill, and currency values tumbled. At the same time, extraordinary measures were implemented to stave off economic collapse - fiscal support and monetary measures reached $26 trillion in a little more than a year. The global debt burden has now risen to levels deemed dangerous, having accumulated at a scale comparable to the eras of World War I and World War II. About 60% of low-income countries are in, or at risk of, debt distress. Together with a lack of access to vaccines, this constrains economic recovery across the developing world. As incomes have vanished amid the pandemic’s spread, food becomes more unaffordable - prompting increases in hunger and malnutrition. The number of people in the grip of acute hunger in 81 countries with UN World Food Programme operations jumped from 150 million in 2019 to 272 million in 2020. An estimated three to four years of progress towards ending extreme poverty have been lost globally, and there has been a widening of inequality; the world’s poorest people face an aggregate loss of up to 0.9 years of schooling. While economic shocks have driven acute food insecurity, slowdowns and downturns also cause hunger and worsening crises. Faced with declining incomes, poor people adopt strategies to cope - which can have detrimental long-term effects. For example, when these involve the sale of productive assets, they can reduce households’ capacity to handle other shocks such as extreme weather events. In addition, economic downturns constrain countries’ capacities to safeguard lives and livelihoods just when it is most needed; 65 out of 77 countries that reported rises in undernourishment between 2011 and 2017 simultaneously suffered economic slowdowns or downturns.

The Economic Shocks of Crises

KEY TRENDS

Access to food is a priority