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Global food security: When America leads, lives are saved

Global food security: When America leads, lives are saved
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When COVID-19 first touched every corner of the globe, NGO experts, development professionals, and epidemiologists alike theorized about the secondary impacts of the virus. Quickly, it became clear that its consequences were far more immediate and vast than initially imagined. And, with time, we now see upon whom these consequences fell the heaviest.

Mere months into the pandemic, whole societies’ wellbeing have plummeted, and economies slowed. Women and girls are at a higher risk of gender-based violence amid lockdowns. Schools in over 130 countries have shut down completely. And, for the millions of children with no remote access, education has completely stopped.

Few effects of the virus are as devastating, however, as the catastrophic toll it has taken on both global food access and people’s ability to buy enough nutritious food to avoid the scourge of hunger. 

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Due to COVID-19, the number of people living in acute food insecurity around the world could rise by 270 million by year’s end — an 82 percent increase—with impacts expected to persist for years to come. In less than a year, the pandemic is reversing decades of progress against global hunger.

A decade ago, the U.S. established its global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, to address the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. It reaffirmed its commitment to fighting global hunger with the bipartisan passage of the Global Food Security Act in 2016.

Together, the U.S government, NGOs, universities, local partners and civil society organizations have combined efforts to build local capacity in communities around the globe to combat hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

Since the formation of Feed the Future, 23.4 million people now live above the poverty line, 5.2 million more families are no longer suffering from hunger and 3.4 million children live free from stunting — a victory worth celebrating. However, we cannot ignore the nexus between COVID-19 and global hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. 

There is a strong connection between hunger and chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart diseases and diabetes — all preexisting conditions that make COVID-19 more deadly. While the pandemic continues to affect food access, more people go hungry — including large numbers of children, who are at a higher risk of hunger.

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It is a vicious cycle that must end soon, as an increase in hunger abroad will result in more COVID-19 cases worldwide, including a possibly deadly spike in the U.S. before the creation and approval of a safe vaccine.

In establishing Feed the Future and passing the Global Food Security Act, America uniquely positioned itself to lessen this devastating effect of the pandemic worldwide. Now more than ever, we must empower Feed the Future to develop agile, inventive and resilient programming to help steer the international community through this crisis. While it is difficult to think about the future during a crisis, we must continue to learn and monitor the results of programs to provide vital information for the reauthorization of Feed the Future in 2023.

During these times, it is hard to be optimistic. However, Feed the Future’s successes show that there is a vibrant development community that is ready and able to provide solutions to global problems. When America leads, lives are saved. 

Sam Worthington is the CEO of InterAction, the largest U.S. alliance of international non-governmental organizations focused on helping vulnerable people around the world.