By Jensen, Randy on October 17, 2020.
To mark World Food Day (Oct. 16), the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs welcomed United Nations World Food Programme Canadian spokesperson Julie Marshall to its weekly YouTube Livestream speaker series on Thursday.
This year’s World Food Day theme is “Grow, Nourish, Sustain Together,” but Marshall instead focused on the pressing needs of the estimated 690 million people affected by hunger around the world, hunger which continues to worsen as wars, natural disasters and COVID-19 continue to ravage the planet’s most vulnerable in 2020.
Marshall said the World Food Programme, which recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, is staring in the face of a $5-billion shortfall this year in meeting the needs of the people it already helps, let alone those it cannot reach.
The WFP had already estimated in 2019 the world’s hunger crisis would reach levels this year not seen since the end of the Second World War, and that was even before COVID hit, said Marshall.
“That was even before we had the pandemic upon us,” she confirmed. “COVID-19 has already taken hold across the globe, and it has made the poorest people poorer and the hungriest hungrier. As millions of people lose their jobs and their livelihoods, many families are finding it really difficult just to put food on the table and feed themselves. The WFP estimates the number of acutely food-insecure people could increase 80 per cent from 149 million pre-COVID to 270 million by the end of this year.”
Marshall said WFP is attempting to mobilize these new food needs, but it needs support to do it.
“WFP is hoping to feed 138 million people,” she said. “Last year we fed 100 million people; so this is a huge jump for WFP to take this caseload on. And it will require the biggest humanitarian response of WFP’s history.”
Marshall predicted dire consequences if the organization cannot muster enough resources to meet its widening $5-billion funding gap to take the organization through the end of the year.
“If we cannot fill that gap, and continue to reach people with effective response, we won’t be able to save their lives. And WFP will be having to make some hard choices going forward.”
Marshall said of particular concern to the WFP during this ongoing crisis as schools have closed around the world due to COVID-19 is 370 million children, 13 million of which are directly supported by the WFP, have not been able to access the school lunch programs they have relied on to provide a significant portion of their nutrition needs.
She also stated the ones most heavily impacted by the current crisis are small-scale farmers who produce most of the world’s food, which in turn undermines the entire food distribution web for all the people who rely on them.
“Small-holder farmers tend to be food insecure themselves,” Marshall explained. “Globally, they form the majority of people living in poverty. Helping to raise their incomes and improve their livelihoods holds the key to sustainable food systems and advancing food security. The pandemic is placing significant stress on food systems, especially in failed states where food systems are already flawed or disrupted.”
Marshall said the scale of the current global hunger crisis is unimaginable, but there are some things people here in Canada and in Lethbridge can do to help.
“On a personal, individual note, you can find out more about global hunger. You can go to our website and find out about the work that we do. You can share it on your social media accounts. As a journalist you can write about the work we do, or the 690 million people who go to bed hungry every single day. That sort of attention will hopefully continue to bring in funding from the Canadian government, will encourage private-sector partners to work with us sharing their expertise, sharing their funds. But also individuals can make a big difference.”
Marshall suggested individuals who wish to contribute to the world food relief effort might consider downloading a WFP app called “Share The Meal.”
“It’s free, and you have it on your phone,” she explained. “You can literally just share one meal from a child either from Syria, or from Yemen, or from Lebanon – you can choose, and just make that difference either to provide one meal or a week’s worth of meals. You can see how that goal is met as we are trying to reach 100,000 children or a school feeding program.
“As an individual you can make a contribution,” Marshall emphasized, “by sharing your knowledge, sharing your networks, but also sharing funds as well.”
For more information on the World Food Programme’s efforts visit http://www.wfp.org.
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