The Financial Express

Pandemic and hunger scourge

| Updated: October 21, 2020 00:38:50

Pandemic and hunger scourge

The world is lately witnessing debates and smokescreens over the process of treating the Covid-19 pandemic. The clashes of ideas and theories raging for some time are feared to cause a delay to the invention of a foolproof cure for the scourge. Meanwhile, another scourge has started panicking many nations. Disruptions in the production of food continue to afflict the middle-income and poorer countries alike. Jolts in supplies and export-import related hiccups are fast becoming parts of the pandemic fallout. But bad news is amid these food-related adversities, pockets of food deficiency and hunger are becoming vital segments of the new normal. Hunger might emerge as a hitherto overlooked malady. In parts of the world, it is going in tandem with the Covid-19.

Almost like the pandemics, the course followed by the onslaughts of hunger is circuitous --- and at times inscrutable. Its inherent causes elude the layman normally. While deciphering the reasons of food scarcity, famine and hunger, economists and academics present different types of theories. Those frequently draw on social factors which are finally proved to be major catalysts to the outbreak of both temporary and protracted food scarcities. In defining the post-WW-II Great Bengal Famine, AmartyaSen pointed the finger at supply disruptions in the main. Others blamed the age-old practice of hoarding individually or in cahoots with syndicates. While dealing with famines or hunger, Sen is seen focused on the socio-political aspects of the scourge. While at the zenith of his career, the late 20th and 21st century dislocations like climate change or the latest scourge of a global pandemic haven't apparently occurred to the economist.  But, amazingly, his theory of difficulty reaching food items to the famine-hit areas still remains relevant.

Over eight months into the corona pandemic, scores of experts observing the worldwide march of the scourge have discovered a new angle to the virus-borne calamity. It's perplexing to find out that the global medical fraternity has not attached much importance to the pandemic's outbreak frequencies in conflict zones. This gloss-over also includes, prominently at that, the ordeal of hunger. Children without food, widespread malnourishment and hunger-related other maladies have been plaguing territories in conflict through the ages. Large sections of adult people also continue to fall victim to the acute non-availability of the basic foods.

In the present world, a lot of armed conflicts, including localised wars, have been causing deaths and untold sufferings to the civilians for long. A few have flared up lately drawing thousands into the abysmal feuds. The parties involved appear to be fully oblivious of the terrible nature of the impacts of these wars. Unlike in the times of peace, it hardly occurs to them that they have dragged themselves into indecisive conflicts. The fallouts which are awaiting them comprise hunger, diseases, tormenting deaths and displacement.

Due to resource constraints, lots of poorer and overpopulated nations have made a mess of their pandemic situation. At the same time, battered economies prompt the stranglehold of poverty to get tighter. Thanks to long periods of lockdown, as seen during Covid-19, the cycle of agro-production continues to malfunction. The semblance of industrial infrastructure these pandemic-hit nations have in place has begun malfunctioning. Mired in nightmarish times, aggravated by social discriminations, some of these countries wait warily for hunger to drive the last nail in the coffin. Those who have a history of civil war or civil unrest emerge as worst sufferers.  Even with mild prevalence of the pandemic, these developments can lead to their snowballing into great national crises. The only way out, then, which remains open to these countries is seeking bailout measures from the international and regional organisations.

Perhaps in a replay of history, World Health Organisation (WHO) came up with a warning last week that 10,000 children per month may die this year from malnutrition caused by the Covid-19 crisis. The WHO chief told a UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) conference that due to the pandemic he expected a 14 per cent rise in cases of severe child malnutrition this year --- or 6.7 million more people --- mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. It's heartening to note that Bangladesh is not included in these countries' list.

As the WHO head has observed, "We cannot expect a world, where the rich have access to healthy diets while the poor are left behind … the rich can afford to stay home, the poor must go out to work." The global pandemic realities continue to emerge with their latent harshness. Lately, a common scenario is being observed in many poorer and least developed countries. It centres round disruptions caused to food yields caused by the Covid-19 attack. Although Bangladesh has yet to come out free of the pandemic's onslaught, its food scenario appears to be comfortable. Moreover, in a survey termed not inclusive of the pandemic's impact on the countries' food production, the 2020 Global Hunger Index has placed Bangladesh at the 75th place out of 107 qualifying countries. The country has gone ahead by 13 ranks. Bangladesh has been found staying ahead of India, Pakistan; but behind Sri Lanka and Nepal. Although Bangladesh is still bracketed among the forty worse performing countries, its relentless battle to eradicate hunger has been recognised by the report.

At the same time the spectre of hunger looms large. The grim prospects deteriorate with the pandemic menace which is said to be poised to make a second attack. However, the Prime Minister's recent note of confidence that people of the country must not suffer from food scarcity as a Covid-19 fallout has prompted many to take heart. The fact is eight months after the outbreak of the global pandemic Bangladesh and the other poorer nations still remain moderately affected. Unless there are disastrous food production and supply disruptions, they may not have to brace for widespread hunger.


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