Post-COVID bulletin: Food crisis and displacement

Post-COVID bulletin: Food crisis and displacement

“May we work together to advance towards a new horizon of love and peace, of fraternity and solidarity, of mutual support and acceptance.”  Pope Francis

M&R BULLETIN #5 | June 2021 

Food crisis and displacement


The number of people facing hunger and food insecurity has been growing due to a combination of armed conflict, climate change, and poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further worsened the fragility of the global food system. “This year there are around 270 million people in 79 countries without access to adequate food supplies. Of these, 34 million face acute food insecurity in emergency situations and are at high risk of hunger”, reports ICMC (International Catholic Migration Commission).

Millions of civilians living in conflict areas face the spectre of famine. Extreme weather exacerbates the situation as well, bringing severe hunger and destroying land, livestock, and crops. Compounding this, the outbreak of COVID-19 has caused lockdowns and economic recession, with major losses of income among the working poor. With agricultural production and distribution breaking down, the problem of food security has worsened. Last but not least, school closures have deprived millions of children of a daily meal.

The Migrants & Refugees Section believes that the global community must act jointly in order to build sustainable food systems as the basis of stable and peaceful societies in the long term. However, it is no less important to protect the most vulnerable people and keep them safe from famine immediately. This bulletin will present recent analyses by the Vatican COVID-19 Commission (VCC-19), including possible solutions to the global food crisis, and will propose some Catholic actors’ best practises for helping impoverished and other vulnerable people face the risk of starvation. 

Working toward post-COVID-19 food sovereignty


Pope Francis considers that we are all responsible for world hunger. Lack of investment in the agricultural sector and an unequal distribution of the fruits of the earth, as well as climate change and an increase in conflict, are problems that must not leave us indifferent and resigned. Food waste by the ton every day is intolerable in the face of the millions of people who are dying of hunger. On the occasion of World Food Day 2019, Pope Francis stated that “what we accumulate and waste is the bread of the poor”. In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis suggests establishing a ‘global fund’ whereby money now used for weapons and other military expenditure would be reallocated so as to “finally put an end to hunger and favour development in the most impoverished countries, so that their citizens will not resort to violent or illusory solutions, or have to leave their countries in order to seek a more dignified life.”    

The VCC-19 has paid particular attention to food in planning for the future, since hunger has increased. The Economics Taskforce produced an executive summary on the food crisis during COVID-19. The document recognises that there was a pre-existing food crisis, exacerbated during the pandemic, due to economic and policy failures. A new post-COVID-19 society must ensure universal access to food and achieve food sovereignty for people and communities. To this end, “first, we must reduce food waste and improve the efficiency of food production.” Next, we should take action against concentrations of market power and monopolies, underlines the Taskforce. 

Meanwhile, the VCC-19 Security Taskforce highlights the fact that the worst effects of famine are on the most vulnerable. Indeed, the first regions affected by famine have been those already caught in the ‘conflict trap’. In the document the term ‘conflict sensitivity’ is used to describe “development programmes that respond to the needs of the victims of armed conflicts”, such as food and health initiatives, in line with the Church’s preferential option for the poor. Churches and faith-based groups are called to help governments to incorporate these conflict-sensitive policies in humanitarian aid and debt relief, with the aim of guaranteeing food security.

Finally, in its third newsletter, the VCC-19 Security Taskforce surveys the ways in which the coronavirus is causing suffering all over the world, while in conflict zones it has also brought famine, which in turn increases conflicts. Food insecurity is thus both cause and consequence of conflict. Persistent conflicts and food insecurity are together responsible for driving millions of people to migrate away from their communities. In conclusion, hunger and displacement cannot be avoided without a global ceasefire.

On Friday, October 16, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, gave a Statement On Agricultural Development, Food Security And Nutrition. He said that ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture must remain high priorities for the international community. Poverty and hunger, he said, must be tackled together, combining economic inclusion, social protection, and support for sustainable livelihoods. He described how the pandemic has intensified malnutrition and food insecurity in multiple ways, and he reaffirmed the Holy See’s commitment to work toward ensuring that everyone has access to their “daily bread.”

Concrete efforts to alleviate hunger


In an open letter to the nations of the world, faith-based aid agencies have urged governments to address global famine: 34 million people are starving. “We cannot allow all hope to be lost,” they wrote. Indeed, thanks to Catholic actors’ daily work to help people feed themselves and their families, some of the worst impacts have been averted. Nonetheless, “we all have a part to play.” The following are some good examples of these deeds of Christian charity.

Catholic groups working in the Palabek refugee camp, Uganda, distributed the little food they had in reserve to help refugees survive famine. Don Bosco Palabek gave out parcels of food and cooking oil to the refugees. However, Sr. Lucy Akera of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu soon realized a longer-term solution to hunger was necessary. She began providing training, tools, and seeds for refugees to plant and harvest crops to help mitigate food shortages amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The training involves land preparation, seed selection, planting, weed management, soil fertility management, harvesting, and postharvest handling and storage. Most refugees now own small “kitchen gardens” around their huts to make sure their children have enough nutritious food to eat. 

Ongoing conflict has left millions of Yemenis homeless and suffering from extreme levels of malnutrition. Hunger affects 14 million Yemenis and five million people are at immediate risk of starvation. CAFOD is working with conflict-affected communities in the south of Yemen along with an aid partner that cannot be named for security reasons. Their project focuses on the distribution of emergency cash to the most vulnerable families who simply cannot afford to buy food.  Furthermore, they have been able to provide nutrition services, such as screening children aged five and under and breastfeeding mothers for acute malnutrition. They also trained community volunteers to spot the worst cases of malnutrition in their communities, and to arrange for mothers and babies to be treated at available health facilities or in the home.

Cáritas Colombia has launched a project, to be implemented in five municipalities of Caquetà, to work toward the food security of rural families (ES) with green agricultural practices and sustainable business models. With its SADER project, Cáritas Colombia focuses on reconciliation processes, restoring the social fabric, and the promotion of rural development, in a territory that has been affected by the armed conflict, thereby also contributing to food security and improving incomes for the rural population. The main challenges relate to the permanence of communities and the maintenance over time of conditions for good nutrition, regardless of external factors that can affect the most vulnerable.

After the lockdown ended in India, many aid recipients continued to return seeking assistance, especially migrants, the destitute, street people, and other persons who are not able to feed themselves. In Nerul a community fridge project called “Don Bosco Cares” was launched to reach out to those who have to spend entire days without food or go to bed hungry as they cannot find work or secure handouts to feed themselves and their children. Food and beverages are kept in a cold fridge, and anyone who is in need and hungry can simply open the fridge and take enough to satisfy their appetite, while a nearby box holds snacks, second-hand clothes, and handmade masks for the needy. 

Voices from the Church: we are responsible for one another


Pope Francis noted that “for humanity, hunger is not only a tragedy but it is also shameful.” In his video message for the World Food Day 2020, the Pope said hunger is caused, “to a large extent, by an unequal distribution of the fruits of the earth, in addition to the lack of investment in agriculture, the consequences of climate change and the increase in conflicts in different parts of the planet”, as well as by the tonnes of food that are discarded. The Holy Father emphasised “the need to act jointly and with firm determination in order to create initiatives that improve the environment around us and promote hope in many persons and peoples.” Progress in the field of food production and consumption is valuable and just, when it is aimed at the use of innovative solutions that strive for sustainability and for the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants.

The VCC-19 joined the event “Food for Earth”, to celebrate Earth Day 2021 and to reflect on integral ecology and on the regenerative power of food systems, together with representatives of FAO and the Future Food Institute. Under-Secretary Sister Alessandra Smerilli spoke on the panel “Food for Earth: challenges and solutions for a brighter future”. She remarked that “all aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability.” As Coordinator of the VCC-19 Economic Taskforce, she explained how “the pandemic has especially exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world”. And she suggested three main shifts to fight against hunger and malnutrition: reinforce resilient food supply chains and distribution; reduce the concentration of market power; and transform our food systems toward more sustainable pathways. Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, Coordinator of the Ecology Taskforce of VCC-19, focused on the importance of food from the perspective of Laudato si’. As Laudato si’ speaks of the Earth as our “common home”, he said, we live in a “common family” and we cannot permit so many millions of our brothers and sisters who are members of our common family to go to bed hungry. Cardinal Turkson encouraged everyone to deeply transform the global food system. This will be a major contribution to ensuring food security for all and to developing resilient agriculture that responds to the climate and biodiversity crises. To do this, he said, it is vital to put the needs of the most vulnerable communities in the world at the center of the debate. 

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of the diocese of Kalookan, in the Metro Manila region, spoke with Fides to present the initiative of “community pantries”, which collect food to help people in need. “Selfishness, self-centeredness undermines our level of humanity. The instinct for survival and the Darwinian principle of natural selection apply in the animal world. Our task as human beings is to take care of the survival of the weakest and most needy because we are different from animals,” Bp. David said. And he added: “The tendency to accumulate, to obtain more than what is needed, characterizes modern societies that are motivated by consumption and excessive production all over the world, where only a few benefit from the goods of the earth.” We should correct this trend through actions of kindness, concern, compassion, generosity, and a sense of solidarity and co-responsibility.

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