"Latin America is facing an unprecedented hunger crisis as a result of the pandemic," said Benedetta Lettera, Desk Manager for Action Against Hunger in Latin America. "It is a perfect storm, with a major health crisis, accompanied by a socio-economic crisis, with a grassroots situation that was complex even before the pandemic," said Lettera.
As the economy contracts and unemployment increases, an additional 29 million people in the region could be driven into poverty, according to estimates by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
After years of increasing progress towards the eradication of hunger, in 2019, Latin America recorded the greatest overall increase in the prevalence of food insecurity. Estimates indicate that if no preventative measures are taken, by 2030, there could be 67 million people suffering from hunger due to the impact of the pandemic and other regional crises, such as drought in Central America, according to the latest United Nations report.
"In Peru - the country with the fifth highest number of confirmed cases - thousands of families go days without food, travel miles looking for food and have returned to self-managing 'community pots' [of food] between neighborhoods, which had not been organized since the 1990s, when the country was suffering a serious economic crisis," says Amrica Arias, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Peru.
Before the pandemic, 20% of the Peruvian population lived in poverty and survived through informal employment. With quarantine measures and no possibility of work, these already vulnerable people have found themselves in extremely difficult conditions.
"In Lima alone, one million people, not only from the poorest class but also from the middle class, suffer from food insecurity. The drop in income has changed family diets, replacing more nutritious and expensive foods like dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood with cheaper ones that are higher in saturated fat, sugar, sodium and calories," adds Arias.
In Peru, Action Against Hunger’s teams provide food assistance and livelihoods support to families dealing with hunger. Our teams have distributed 40,000 kilos of food donated by the private sector and Peruvian institutions. In addition, we are working with the Ministry of Health to help prevent COVID-19 through dissemination campaigns and by providing protective equipment and hygiene products. In fact, Action Against Hunger’s teams heard from families that they have not had access to hygiene products for months because all their income or savings have been used to buy food.
In Colombia, COVID-19 has deepened the country's structural problems and exacerbated the needs of the most vulnerable people.
"There is significant concern about hidden poverty, which affects the middle classes who could soon fall into poverty, and about health systems, which are under enormous pressure to respond to the health crisis. This is especially serious in rural and isolated areas," says Pilar Medina, Deputy Director for Action Against Hunger in Colombia, who also warns of food insecurity experienced by children.
"The main protective spaces for the little ones were schools, and when schools closed, they found themselves without that ration of food they were receiving," adds Medina, who explained that, with the closure of schools, the number of red rags on the windows – a signal for urgently needed help used in Colombia - began to multiply.
In Colombia, Action Against Hunger is distributing food and monitoring the nutrition status of children in border areas, while working on to prevent disease with hygiene awareness sessions and distribution of supplies in densely populated urban areas like Bogotá. Our teams also work in close collaboration with local authorities to disinfect and prevent disease in health facilities.
Across Central America, hopelessness grows each day. COVID-19 cases are increasing, and the consequences are hitting the most vulnerable populations hard.
“The pandemic has caused an increase in the number of acutely malnourished children, paralyzed exports, and increased the number of informal workers, who now make up 70% of the country’s workforce,” said Miguel Angel Garcia, Regional Director of Central America for Action Against Hunger.
Against all odds, remittances, which had dropped since the beginning of the pandemic, increased in June, thanks to the solidarity of migrants living in the United States. “Remittances are Guatemala’s main source of income, and in the last month, they reached two billion dollars, which has allowed the Guatemalan population to avoid falling into more extreme vulnerability,” says García.
In Central America, our teams are distributing and providing disinfection and hygiene kits, as well as training health facilities in disinfection, care, and prevention protocols.