The pandemic plunges families in the world’s wealthy economies into food poverty


When the pandemic last year forced Mariassunta Seccia and her husband Rodolfo to lose their jobs, they struggled to pay for food, rent and bills.

“It didn’t take long before all the money was spent,” said 36-year-old Seccia, who works as a cleaner in a hotel in Milan, while her husband sells fruit at a market stall. “When our children opened the refrigerator and couldn’t even find a bottle of water… it was very shocking for them, they had never experienced hunger before.”

The Cessia family is not the only one from developed and wealthy countries in trouble. According to recently released data, in Europe and North America, the number of hungry people has increased for the first time since the United Nations began collecting data in 2014. In 2020, nearly 9% of people are in a state of moderate or severe food insecurity, compared with 7.7% in the previous year.

These figures dwarf the level of less affluent economies; by 2020, nearly one-third of the world’s population will not have enough nutrition. According to the United NationsUnlike poorer countries that lack government protection, most developed countries have state-supported welfare safety nets.

Alif Hussein, chief economist of the United Nations World Food Program, said that despite this, many vulnerable groups in rich countries are still hit hard by the economic impact of Covid-19.

“Even in developed countries, there may not necessarily be anyone in the safety net program. They have already suffered, they are suffering,” he said.

These include self-employed or temporary contractors, who are usually not covered by insurance-based unemployment and sickness benefit schemes, and those who work in the informal economy.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of people living in poverty in Italy in 2020 has increased by 22% from the previous year, reaching 5.6 million, which is equivalent to one-tenth of Italians.

Mariassunta Seccia and her children face hunger after losing their jobs during the pandemic © Albero della Vita

Lawrence Haddad, executive director of the Global Alliance for Better Nutrition, said that in order to solve this problem, non-governmental organizations such as charities and food banks have increased their role during the pandemic.

According to the European Food Bank Federation (Feba), its members helpful There will be nearly 13 million people in 2020, an increase of 35% over the previous year. Angela Frigo, the secretary-general of Feba, stated that about 860,000 tons of food were distributed, an increase of 12%, and that number has not fallen in 2021. “Food demand is still high,” she said.

The histogram of moderate or severe food insecurity (% of population) in North America and Europe shows that hunger is increasing even in rich countries

Seccia turned to the charity Albero della Vita Foundation, which aims to eradicate poverty by providing food, care and education to those in need. “If it wasn’t for someone to help [foundation], I don’t know where we will end,” she said.

Isabella Catapano, general manager of Albero della Vita, said that the number of families helped by the charity quadrupled in 2020 year-on-year to more than 1,000.

She said: “Sometimes people feel that poverty does not exist in more developed countries, but poverty is there.” “During the epidemic, many conditions suddenly deteriorated and many people have nothing.”

She said that especially those who work in the informal sector of the Italian economy are “the most vulnerable” and are “excluded from the national safety net”.

The line chart of absolute poverty population (millions) shows that the pandemic has caused a sharp rise in poverty in Italy

According to data from Feeding America, which operates a national food bank network, the number of people serving food banks in the United States has increased by 55% compared to before the pandemic.it Say 45 million people Last year experienced food insecurity.

Although this number is lower than that after the 2008 financial crisis, when food insecurity affected 50 million people, food price inflation is becoming more and more worrying. Craig GundersonProfessor of Agriculture and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.

“Compared with during the epidemic, I am more concerned about what will happen after the epidemic. All these stimulus plans will lead to inflation, which in turn will lead to higher food prices. Whenever inflation rises, vulnerable families will bear a huge burden,” he said.

Church members pack bags for a food bank in New York.According to data from the U.S. Support Organization © Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York, about 45 million people in the U.S. experienced food insecurity last year

Prices of food commodities traded on the international market Soar Recently, it has been driven by drought in major export areas and hoarding by some governments and companies.

Economists say that developing countries that rely on agricultural imports and less processed food have been severely affected, but rich countries will soon feel the impact.

Food producer prices Has risen (already increased IMF economist Christian Bogmans said that this is the fastest pace since 2008, which will play a more powerful role in driving headline inflation statistics than it has recently.

He and his colleagues predict that by the end of 2022, consumer food prices in rich countries will rise by an average of 4.5 percentage points. He warned that the EU and the US may face additional price pressures due to loose monetary and fiscal policies.

The line chart of the food price index (2014-2016=100) shows that world food prices have soared

He added that dry weather conditions in parts of the United States this year may further push up consumer food price inflation, although it is difficult to quantify at present.

Aid experts worry that rising levels of poverty and hunger in rich countries will affect their ability to provide aid to poorer countries.

Hussein of the United Nations World Food Program worries that the world’s collective capacity to deal with hunger and poverty is shrinking. “Demand is rising, but rich countries have fewer resources to meet these needs,” he said.

Back in Milan, Cesia and her husband have been doing odd jobs for the past six months, mainly as cleaners.

They hope that their situation will “slowly get better”, but the impact of the pandemic will continue. Sesia said: “We will pay off the accumulated debt in the next few months or even years.”



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