Eight of the biggest food and beverage companies pay out $18 billion to shareholders as new epicenters of hunger emerge across the globe
As many as 12,000 people could die per day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to COVID-19, potentially more than could die from the disease, warned Oxfam in a new briefing published today. The global observed daily mortality rate for COVID-19 reached its highest recorded point in April 2020 at just over 10,000 deaths per day.
‘The Hunger Virus,’ reveals how 121 million more people could be pushed to the brink of starvation this year as a result of the social and economic fallout from the pandemic including through mass unemployment, disruption to food production and supplies, and declining aid.
Oxfam America President Abby Maxman said:
“COVID-19 is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, climate change, inequality and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers. Meanwhile, those at the top are continuing to make a profit: eight of the biggest food and drink companies paid out over $18 billion to shareholders since January even as the pandemic was spreading across the globe – more than ten times the current UN appeal to stop people going hungry.”
The briefing reveals the world’s ten worst hunger hotspots, places such as Venezuela and South Sudan where the food crisis is most severe and getting worse as a result of the pandemic. It also highlights emerging epicenters of hunger – middle income countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil – where millions of people who were barely managing have been tipped over the edge by the pandemic. For example:
- Brazil: Millions of poor workers, with little in the way of savings or benefits to fall back on, lost their incomes as a result of lockdown. Only 10 percent of the financial support promised by the federal government had been distributed by late June with big business favored over workers and smaller more vulnerable companies.
- India: Travel restrictions left farmers without vital migrant labor at the peak of the harvest season, forcing many to leave their crops in the field to rot. Traders have also been unable to reach tribal communities during the peak harvest season for forest products, depriving up to 100 million people of their main source of income for the year.
- Yemen: Remittances dropped by 80 percent – or approximately $253 million - in the first four months of 2020 as a result of mass job losses across the Gulf. Borders and supply route closures have led to food shortages and food price spikes in the country which imports 90 percent of its food.
- Sahel: Restrictions on movement have prevented herders from driving their livestock to greener pastures for feeding, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. Just 26 percent of the $2.8bn needed to respond to COVID-19 in the region has been pledged.
Kadidia Diallo, a female milk producer in Burkina Faso, told Oxfam: “COVID-19 is causing us a lot of harm. Giving my children something to eat in the morning has become difficult. We are totally dependent on the sale of milk, and with the closure of the market we can’t sell the milk anymore. If we don’t sell milk, we don't eat.”
The United States is not immune to this hunger crisis. The pandemic obliterated systems that had, for years, kept millions one small step away from poverty and food insecurity. Countless businesses shuttered, leaving millions unemployed and struggling to pay bills. Schools closed, removing reliable sources of breakfast and lunch for millions of students. The food chain faltered—from produce fields to meat plants--causing prices to rise. It’s estimated that food insecurity rates in the United States have doubled.
“The awful truth is that food insecurity is exploding here in our own backyard,” said Abby Maxman. “Every town has people who are going to bed hungry right now. Those who were on the edge before are now struggling to stay afloat. In Mississippi, nearly a quarter of all residents are experiencing food insecurity; in Louisiana, over a third of all children are facing empty cupboards.”
In every region in the world, women, and women-headed households, are more likely to go hungry. Women are already vulnerable because of systemic discrimination that sees them earn less and own fewer assets than men. They make up a large proportion of groups, such as informal workers, that have been hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, and have also borne the brunt of a dramatic increase in unpaid care work as a result of school closures and family illness.
““Governments must contain the spread of this deadly disease, but it is equally vital they take action to stop the pandemic killing as many – if not more – people from hunger,” said Eric Muñoz, Senior Manager Food and Climate Justice, Oxfam America.
“Governments can save lives now by fully funding the UN’s COVID-19 appeal, making sure aid gets to those who need it most, and cancelling the debts of developing countries to free up funding for social protection and healthcare. To end this hunger crisis, governments must also build fairer, more robust, and more sustainable food systems, that put the interests of food producers and workers before the profits of big food and agribusiness,” added Muñoz.
Since the pandemic began, Oxfam has reached 4.5 million of the world’s most vulnerable people with food aid and clean water, working together with over 344 partners in over 60 countries. We aim to reach a total of 14 million people by raising a further $113m to support our programs.
Notes to editor
Stories, pictures, and video highlighting the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on hunger across the globe are available on request.
The WFP estimates that the number of people in crisis level hunger − defined as IPC level 3 or above – will increase by approximately 121 million this year as a result of the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. The estimated daily mortality rate for IPC level 3 and above is 0.5−1 per 10,000 people, equating to 6,050−12,100 deaths per day due to hunger as a result of the pandemic before the end of 2020. The global observed daily mortality rate for COVID-19 reached its highest recorded point in April 2020 at just over 10,000 deaths per day and has ranged from approximately 5,000 to 7,000 deaths per day in the months since then according to data from John Hopkins University. While there can be no certainty about future projections, if there is no significant departure from these observed trends during the rest of the year, and if the WFP estimates for increasing numbers of people experiencing crisis level hunger hold, then it is likely that daily deaths from hunger as a result of the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic will be higher than those from the disease before the end of 2020. It is important to note that there is some overlap between these numbers given that some deaths due to COVID-19 could be linked to malnutrition.
Oxfam gathered information on dividend payments of eight of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies up to the beginning of July 2020, using a mixture of company, NASDAQ, and Bloomberg websites. Numbers are rounded to the nearest million: Coca-Cola ($3,522m), Danone ($1,348m), General Mills ($594m), Kellogg ($391m), Mondelez ($408m), Nestlé ($8,248m for entire year), PepsiCo ($2,749m) and Unilever (estimated $1,180m). Many of these companies are pursuing efforts to address COVID-19 and/or global hunger.
The ten extreme hunger hotspots are: Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Venezuela, the West African Sahel, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Haiti.