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"This virus makes my life more difficult; food has become very expensive and there are not enough vendors in the local market. I have no income, apart from selling my chickens and goat, [and the prices I got for them] were very low—the money I earned was enough for only four days' worth of food.”

Droughts in Madagascar destroy crops and threaten the livelihoods of farmers. COVID-19 is making families who rely on subsistence agriculture even more vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. 
Photo: Heidi Yanulis
for CRS

This story—shared by a man who lives in southern Madagascar—is not uncommon throughout Africa and around the world as COVID-19 exacerbates existing food insecurities and other vulnerabilities. In Madagascar, drought has partially, or in some cases, completely destroyed maize crops, leaving farmers without income and families without food. Surviving crops have been devastated by locusts and fall armyworms. As a result, food prices have skyrocketed. In emergency situations like these, families often resort to selling their livestock to purchase food, but falling prices of chickens and other animals are impacting their ability to do that.

As we observe World Food Day on October 16, we hold in prayer our sisters and brothers experiencing hunger and malnutrition in Madagascar, across Africa and the world, and in our own communities.

 Rations of yellow split peas are part of the critical food aid provided to vulnerable communities in Ethiopia experiencing a hunger crisis worsened by
COVID- 19. Photo: Joshua Smith for CRS

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, climate change, conflict and violence, scarcity of work, and poverty were already causing food insecurity for many communities around the world. Globally, chronic hunger has been on the rise since 2014.  An estimated 2 billion people lacked access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food last year.

In Ethiopia, an estimated 7 million people will need food assistance this year due to the vicious cycle of droughts, unpredictable flooding, and crop failures. Persistent drought in the dry corridor of Central America has forced many farmers to migrate, looking for work.

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CRS partnered with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education to provide take-home rations of rice, yellow corn, vegetable oil, and black beans for more than 50,000 school students who are out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The food distributions were done using physical distancing
and other safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.  Photo: Edner Francisco Zacarías Coxic for CRS

In addition to drought and environmental degradation, in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, gang violence makes it nearly impossible for families to earn a living, with the youth homicide rate five times what the World Health Organization considers an epidemic. Conflict in the Sahel region of West Africa has left nearly 1 million people displaced and vulnerable to hunger.

Families who rely on subsistence agriculture or unpredictable day labor are at risk of chronic hunger and malnutrition, and COVID-19’s impact is compounding the hunger crisis. Travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus have made it difficult for many to work and earn an income. For many, school closures mean students who receive what is often their only meal through school food distribution programs now lack access to critical nutrition.

“The children have been at home all the time. It was difficult to get enough food for them for all of their meals,” says Blandine, a mother of three from Rwanda. “The children’s father is also unemployed because of the lockdown.”

COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for Blandine and her husband to look after their family and feed their children. CRS has been providing cash transfers to Blandine and other vulnerable families in Rwanda to support their livelihoods, purchase food and other necessities. Photo: Maggie Andersen for CRS

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is responding to the impact of COVID-19 while trying to ensure vulnerable households have access to the food and resources they need to stay healthy. In addition to sharing information about the virus and prevention methods with communities, CRS is incorporating new safety measures into existing programming such as increased handwashing, face masks, and physical distancing. We are also working with partners to install handwashing stations and provide critical hygiene supplies so communities can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

CRS is increasing food rations to help families and communities cope while travel and public gatherings are suspended and schools are closed. In Ethiopia, emergency food aid is currently supporting more than 1.5 million people. In Guatemala, rice, corn, black beans, and vegetable oil used for school lunches—often a child’s only meal of the day—are being provided as take-home rations for more than 50,000 students.

Enrique, a PTA member at his children’s school in Guatemala, shares, “You can’t imagine how happy the children were to have the school food! In our family, five people benefited from it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Ethiopian farmers
at a time when they were already grappling with the worst locust plague in the past 25 years as well as cyclical droughts and floods that threaten their livelihoods. CRS and partners are distributing
food aid to 1.5 million people in response to this compounding crisis. Photo: Joshua Smith for CRS

Acute hunger is expected to double this year because of COVID-19. As millions face the threat of hunger and malnutrition, you can answer our Gospel call to feed the hungry by taking action this World Food Day to help ensure communities have access to enough nutritious food: Urge your members of Congress to provide at least $20 billion in funding for the international response to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19 around the world.

To encounter more stories, prayers, and opportunities to make a difference to eradicate poverty around the world, join tens of thousands across the U.S.  in the movement to lead the way at crs.org/leadtheway or by texting LEAD NOW to 306-44.

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Colleen Hutchison is a Content Producer at Catholic Relief Services. She works on issue-based campaigns to engage Catholics and others of good will in the United States in CRS’ lifesaving work around the world.

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