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Staff Writer Nov 22, 2021

Food Insecurity: Another Cost of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Staff Writer | Nov 22, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There is no place for starvation in the 21st century. And yet, for the first time in decades, The Global Hunger Index shows that world hunger is increasing1. 148 million more people are experiencing food insecurity than in 20192. But why is hunger on the rise in the modern age, and what can we do together to stop it?

“In my whole career, I’ve never seen such a massive crisis being forgotten,” says Tanjina Mirza, Chief Program Officer and Plan International Canada employee of 20 years. “We cannot lose our humanity in this time of crisis.”
A woman experiencing food insecurity in South Sudan at a Plan International food distribution.

What is food insecurity and what causes it?

Food insecurity means the inability to regularly access enough nutritious food. It can mean someone who is unsure when and how they’ll get food, to someone who is skipping meals or has gone an entire day or longer without eating. Today, 850 million people – or nearly 1 in 9 people – around the world do not have enough food3.

What makes hunger so devastating is how it’s caused by other crises like poverty, conflict and climate change, which creates a vicious cycle. Fires, floods, drought and other climate disasters are destroying farms and homes. Armed groups threaten daily activities and are forcing families to flee their land, jobs and livelihoods.

Why is world hunger getting worse?

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified all the factors causing food insecurity. Now, hunger is causing more deaths than the virus4. School closures are robbing 187 million children of school meal programs5, which can often be a child’s best meal of the day. The pandemic has devastated the economy, especially for people already living in poverty: skyrocketing the cost of goods, while denying millions of people of their income. And when people are pushed to the brink of poverty and starvation, conflict worsens. This deadly mix of factors is reversing progress made in the fight to end hunger.

2-year-old Castarina from Mozambique no longer gets her school meal and is experiencing food insecurity.
“When the schools closed, my brothers and I no longer had the school lunch and our farm was not producing anything. I started washing our neighbour’s clothes to get some food to take home for dinner in the afternoon.” – 12-year-old Castarina from Mozambique

Hunger hits girls and women the hardest

When food is scarce, girls often eat least, and last. Over 70% of people experiencing food insecurity are girls and women6. As families face rising poverty, girls are chosen to stay home to support the household, denying them their education and vital school meals. Food insecurity and poverty also expose adolescent girls to other dangers, like abuse, child labour or exploitation in exchange for food, as well as child marriage to ease a family’s financial burden. For girls, food insecurity means much more than hunger: it threatens girls’ entire wellbeing and futures. Learn more about why gender equality matters during crisis.

What Plan International is doing to help families build their food security and communities build their resilience to crisis

For years, Plan International has been multiplying our efforts in partnership with the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize-winning World Food Programme, combining efforts to respond to this worsening world hunger crisis. In 20 of the world’s most food insecure countries, we are helping distribute food, cash and grocery vouchers to pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and children under 5 years old who are most at risk. We also help communities access nutrition and cooking trainings, as well as helping run school meal and take-home food programs.

Standing with girls is a powerful solution to crisis.
  • All around the world we partner with children and their communities to overcome the long-term effects of crises to protect children, and especially girls – who are most often denied their rights, and further vulnerable to risks like gender-based violence.
  • We help youth and families boost their skills and access new job opportunities.
  • We partner with communities to end harmful practices like child marriage.
  • And we address gender stereotypes to help ensure every girl can access equal education and all the opportunities it can open.

What we must do together to help end world hunger

This Giving Tuesday, November 30, join us in helping end this world hunger crisis, before it’s too late, with a Gift of Hope. Gifts of Hope are ethical holiday gifts that inspire and raise awareness of important global issues with friends and family, while also helping children and communities around the world access real resources and services to save lives and build a better future.

Give a food basket to help children who are food insecure access lifesaving nutrition. Or give the gift of COVID-19 vaccine roll-out to help ensure everyone can receive their lifesaving doses.

COVID-19, and now food insecurity, are reversing girls’ rights and progress toward equality. Together, we must Stop the Setback and ensure no child is left behind. We can’t move past crisis into a more just world, until we all can.

1 Concern Worldwide, Global Hunger Index.
2 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb4474en
3 World Food Programme, Hunger Map Live: Global Insights and Key Trends accessed November 22, 2021.
4 Oxfam, The Hunger Virus Multiplies.
5 World Food Programme, School feeding map.
6 UNOCHA, Global Humanitarian Overview 2021.