With investment from governments, philanthropists, and the private sector, the world can halt the spread of pandemic-induced food insecurity.
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc around the world with many countries still seeing horrific daily numbers in the thousands. India’s daily numbers alone, currently the highest in the world, provide a grim picture of a new worst-case scenario. But on top of the pandemic’s devastating and immediate consequences for public health is the rollback of decades of progress on reducing hunger.
As COVID-19 and lockdowns spread across the developing world, millions of self-employed, daily wage earners found they had less money to spend on food, and that food costs were rising sharply. Quite simply, the COVID-19 pandemic has put significant stress on all components of the world's food systems, threatening the livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that the number of chronically hungry people increased by 130 million in 2020.
Recovery is More Affordable than You Think
Halting this multifaceted crisis will require both humanitarian aid and long-term investments of at least $14 billion per year. In particular, investing in social safety nets and supporting agricultural development will both be key to the recovery process and vital in building long-term resilience to end extreme poverty.
Not only are these investments an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the global economy, making it fairer and more sustainable, but relatively speaking, it is something our world can afford. It represents just 0.1 percent of the $14.9 trillion that the world’s wealthiest economies have spent on stimulating their economies during the pandemic.
Moreover, while the economic crisis has hit poorer countries much harder than richer ones, global growth won’t recover without them: especially since 40 percent of the global economy today depends on low- and middle-income countries (excluding China).
Opportunities Abound to Fund Recovery
There are several opportunities for this funding to be provided as outlined in Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World, which we launched earlier this year.
Firstly, governments should set aside a relatively small amount of their stimulus programs for development and humanitarian assistance. The more we spend today, the less humanitarian assistance will be needed later. The increases in official development assistance in 2020 are welcome but this needs to be sustained, and most notably countries—like the UK—that have recently slashed their aid budgets need to reverse course. Additional increases should include support for key programs such as the WFP’s school meals programs to reach vulnerable children, particularly girls, the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s work in support of the world’s poorest small-scale farmers and producers, and others.
Secondly, governments should support the IMF’s efforts to unlock up to USD $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). Various proposals exist on how this should be reallocated to target support to the neediest countries, but at least the equivalent of 25 percent should be targeted at responding to the pandemic’s broad range of health, social, and economic impacts, including food insecurity. Regardless of which mechanisms are chosen, the financial support offered through SDRs should be concessional and additional.
Thirdly, we know that simple solutions like cash transfers, social protection programs, and school meals are key to averting the looming hunger crisis. Yet there is a number of countries with particularly high debt levels, such as Zambia, that risk facing default and will need additional measures if they are to be able to fund such measures. The G20 and private creditors should quickly implement debt restructuring programs in those cases. It is critical that holistic debt restructuring occurs as soon as possible; all parties should agree to proper write-offs to give the poorest countries in debt distress the ability to make decisions on social spending and long-term recovery.
Finally, private philanthropy needs to play a much bigger role. In the US alone, more than $1 trillion is sitting in private foundations and donor-advised funds. In 2020, the private sector played a key role in contributing money, equipment, expertise, and other assistance that totaled $355 billion in giving. Many philanthropists and foundations like MacKenzie Scott, the Wallace Global Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation also stepped up and increased or accelerated their giving to meet the moment before us. But much more needs to be done to unlock the tens of billions of dollars sitting idle and not being put to use.
To this end, Global Citizen champions two initiatives to increase private giving. Our Give While You Live campaign calls on the world’s 2,000+ billionaires—who have collectively amassed a staggering net worth of more than 10 trillion dollars—to donate 5 percent of their wealth every year to an important cause or issue area such as COVID-19 response and relief, particularly among presently and historically marginalized communities including people of color, those living in extreme poverty, and others facing discrimination. Meanwhile, the Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving aims to promote greater and more accountable charitable giving through common sense policy reforms. These measures would go a long way in supporting global efforts to respond, recover and emerge stronger together as governments quite simply cannot —and should not — be going it alone.
With the meaningful support and decisive leadership of governments, private sector partners, and philanthropists, we can take clear actions to fuel and finance an equitable recovery that ensures families have food on the table and that everyone, everywhere is able to recover better together.