COVID-19: Unprecedented levels of displacement & extreme hunger, UN

The report recognizes COVID-19 as a "profound disruption" that is likely to change human mobility in the near and long term".

covid-19 displacement

A recent report from two UN agencies showed that global hunger and forced migration reached record highs because of the COVID-19 pandemic and could surge even further workers are desperately seeking work to support their families. Many workers in low and middle income countries found their their livelihoods completely destroyed because of the pandemic. According to the report, the pandemic has impacted human movement and displacement in “unprecedented” ways.

The report entitled, “Populations at Risk: Implications of Covid-19 for Hunger, Migration, and Displacement” comes just as the number of cases across the globe reached 51 million and 1.26 million deaths. It looks at recent migration trends, the impact the pandemic has had on migrant workers, refugees and households dependent on remittance. They also look at this in relation to health and food security, noting that hunger and displacement are “closely intertwined.”

Displacement, food insecurity & remittances

In recent years, the number of hungry and malnourished people has slowly risen. This is mainly because of conflict, climate shocks and economic crises, alongside persecution. This situation exponentially worsened post pandemic.

As of October 2020, 219 countries, territories and other areas had restrictions on mobility, especially international movement causing a shift in migration trends. While certain international movements have reduced, lockdown and COVID-19 induced job and food insecurity has lead to a rise in migration driven by need.

Around 800 million people around the world rely on remittances, and households living on the same have suffered greatly because of the pandemic. The World Bank estimated that remittances to LMICs would drop by at least 14 percent by 2021 as a result of the pandemic. Accordingly, World Food Programme estimated that remittance losses 33 million people would be at risk of facing hunger across the countries where it operates.

“Remittances sent from workers abroad to their families at home have also dried up, causing immense hardship. As a result, hunger rates are sky-rocketing around the world.” 

David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP

Because of income loss, many migrants returned home, unable to support their families. Most migrant workers, especially international migrant workers, work in the informal sector (70% men and 75% women). They are often the first to be laid off and therefore faced great income and food insecurity because of COVID-19. But border closures and travel bans have left nearly 3 million migrants standard.

Those forcibly displaced due to natural disasters- which has been on the rise since 2011- live in urban areas, where the economic impact of COVID-19 is at its worst. Migrant workers, internally displaced persons and refugees living and working in such conditions are susceptible to rapid spread as frequent hand washing, physical distancing or marks are nearly impossible to implement.

The nearly 100 million migrant workers living in poverty in India face an additional layer of oppression as they are stigmatised as “virus carriers.”

 

Suggestions

According António Vitorino, director general of International Organization for Migration, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is so drastic, that it hinders ongoing efforts to those in need of assistance. Thus, the report also recommends actions that the international community should take. Dominique Burgeon, director of emergencies and resilience, Food and Agriculture Organization (UN) called the report an “urgent call for action”, stating:

“We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger. We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”

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