DENVER, Colorado — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the health of those in the Caribbean as food insecurity and livelihood disruption levels rise. In July 2020, the World Food Program (WFP) estimated that 2.9 million people were food insecure across the English-speaking Caribbean. Around 400,000 of those people were severely food insecure. As the widespread socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic significantly alter livelihoods, increased job loss and reduced income have impacted nutrition, eating habits and food security in the Caribbean.
Livelihood and Income
In July 2020, a WFP survey showed that 54% of 5,708 respondents’ livelihoods were disrupted by the effects of COVID-19. Worsening livelihoods particularly affected low-income households with 88% of respondents classifying their income as well below average. The primary worries reported were unemployment, fear of illness and the inability to meet food and essential needs.
Food availability rose from April to July, but 78% of respondents in June reported an increase in food prices, compared to 59% in April. This highlights the worsening of food security in the Caribbean. As a result, food consumption has decreased. In fact, one in three people has to either skip meals, eat reduced amounts or not eat for an entire day. These behaviors particularly occur among lower-income groups, of which 16% reported going a day without eating in the week prior in July.
In addition to increased food insecurity in the Caribbean, control measures for the pandemic have caused setbacks in the recent transition to a healthier, more sustainable food system throughout the provinces. When the region experienced a lockdown, the demand for fast-food chains, quick-service restaurants, nutrient-poor food and highly processed non-perishables grew. For a region already suffering from diet-related health problems, the pandemic has worsened future health prospects among youth and adults.
To address nutrition and food security in the Caribbean, the WFP and many governments use a social protection approach to COVID-19. Social protection is implemented by adapting to new realities, providing increased benefits and assistance to existing beneficiaries, extending assistance to new households through current programs and creating completely new programs founded on existing ones.
Of the 22 countries in the Caribbean using the social protection response, 21 have introduced new programs, 15 have modified existing programs and 11 have altered existing social assistance programs. New or updated programs target those affected by income disruptions, provide food assistance to vulnerable groups, adjust school feeding programs and modify payroll subsidies.
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC)
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission have worked diligently to mobilize national and regional responses to issues concerning nutrition and food security in the Caribbean. The HCC response included:
- Supporting the reduction of the regional food import bill
- Implementing actions and strategies to guarantee access to nutritious foods
- Initiating a COVID-19 Communication Strategy to spark support and dialogue around good health
The OECS Commission developed the National Agriculture Sector COVID-19 Response and accelerated the regional trade of nutritious, local produce. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OECS Commission aims to:
- Initiate regional communication of advantages of food security response
- Develop a unified food security response
- Regularly analyze the food security consequences of the pandemic
- Discern and appropriately advance the food commerce
The responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from the WFP, HCC and OECS highlight a tapering opportunity to maximize health, nutrition and food security in the Caribbean. Additionally, the newly established social protection programs provide the chance to fortify social protection and prepare for future responses. A collective effort is imperative to ensure future nutrition and food security in the Caribbean and alleviate the pandemic’s consequences. As such, advocates, governments, private sectors and health agencies must continue developing and implementing response plans that support access to and consumption of nutritious food.
– Violet Chazkel