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Hunger, Migration Surging as Pandemic Takes Heavy Economic Toll

City worker Randy Greice, foreground, unloads a pallet of food at a food distribution event, Oct. 6, 2020, in Opa-locka, Florida.
City worker Randy Greice, foreground, unloads a pallet of food at a food distribution event, Oct. 6, 2020, in Opa-locka, Florida.

The United Nations warns global hunger is reaching new heights as COVID-19 devastates economies around the world. A report by the World Food Program and International Organization for Migration says severe food shortages are forcing millions of people to migrate in search of work to feed their families.

Communities most at risk are those riven by conflict, violence and natural disasters. The report says efforts to curb COVID-19 have led to unprecedented restrictions on mobility, trade and economic activity, triggering a global recession and causing hunger to surge.

The World Food Program projects a staggering 80 percent increase in the number of acutely food-insecure people from pre-COVID-19 levels of 149 million to 270 million by the end of the year.

The joint WFP-IOM report finds the world’s 164 million migrant workers, especially those in the informal sector, are among those worst hit by the pandemic.

IOM spokeswoman Angela Wells says migrant workers, who often work on a temporary, seasonal basis for little money and no social protection, are particularly vulnerable.

“More than 94,000 travel restrictions in over 220 countries, territories or areas put in place to contain the spread of the disease have limited opportunities for people to move, work, and afford food and other basic needs,” said Wells. "Without sustained income, the report warns that many will be pushed to return home which will cause a significant drop in remittances.”

The report estimates remittances provide an essential lifeline for around 800 million—or one in nine—people in the world. The World Bank expects remittances to drop by as much as 14 percent worldwide in 2020.

WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says remittances from international migrants play a crucial role in supporting families. He says hunger inevitably will increase without that source of income.

“Based on our analysis, WFP has projected that the remittance losses alone could leave an additional 33 million people at risk of hunger across the 79 countries covered by this analysis…And, our offices are reporting that one in five households say that they use remittances entirely to buy food,” said Phiri.

The two agencies are calling on the international community to respond to the immediate and rising humanitarian needs of the hundreds of millions of people struggling to survive the devastating socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic.

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