SEATTLE, Washington — In a country that already has high levels of poverty and food insecurity, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Ethiopia much closer to officially being in a hunger crisis. Ethiopia is currently facing droughts, climate change and locust swarms so the economic effects of the pandemic have worsened an already hurting country. The hunger crisis in Ethiopia during COVID-19 results from a number of factors.
How COVID-19 is Creating a Hunger Crisis in Ethiopia
Restricted Movement: Restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 inside Ethiopia have severely hurt the population’s access to food, business and farming activities. Food produced domestically and distributed informally makes up 80% of the food consumed in Africa. Lockdown measures and social distancing have shut down this informal way of doing business and decreased the production and amount of food available. In 2015, statistics indicated that Ethiopia imports up to $1.8 billion in agricultural products, mostly in wheat, sugar and palm oil. The downturn in world markets and the global supply chain severely harms Ethiopia’s poor who rely on imports for food.
Already Strained Country: Before the pandemic started, Ethiopia was coping with large swarms of locusts and droughts from climate change. Ethiopia was one of the worst-hit countries by locusts, resulting in the destruction of about 200,000 hectares of cropland and more than a million hectares of pasture. Many Ethiopians rely on livestock and some regions contain semi-nomadic pastoralists, so the destruction of land meant a loss of income and a huge disruption to the food supply. The FAO estimates that about one million people in Ethiopia are now facing hunger from the locust invasion alone. The economic effects of the pandemic have only worsened the hunger problem already caused by the infestation, entrenching Ethiopia’s people in a hunger crisis.
Job Losses: The pandemic has left many Ethiopians without work. In a household that depends on urban and migratory labor, movement restrictions and limited economic activity has meant the loss of jobs. Many living in urban areas have returned to their original rural homes, which increases the competition for unskilled labor jobs in those areas. Because of increased competition, rates for labor have decreased which subsequently reduces the incomes of rural households. Many farmers and agriculturalists have struggled to make money as low rainfall and locust invasions destroy land and crop production.
Rising Prices: Another way that COVID-19 is creating a hunger crisis in Ethiopia is through rising prices of food. Low food production domestically and lower trade and imports from abroad have left food more scarce, leading prices to increase. Sorghum, a drought-resistant cereal grain that is popular across Africa, exceeded its five-year price average by 85% in July of 2020. Low rainfall and drought have plagued Ethiopia since before the pandemic, so the rising costs of essential foods leave many households at a higher risk of food insecurity. COVID-19-related panic-buying also increased prices between March and June across Africa, specifically affecting the price of white maize in Ethiopia.
Increasing Hunger Levels: In 2019, 8.5 million people in Ethiopia faced severe acute food insecurity. Action Against Hunger reports that 37% of children under five were chronically malnourished and 7% were acutely malnourished in 2019. These numbers will increase dramatically due to the locust invasion and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network found that Ethiopia is one of the countries most affected by the drop in crop production this year.
Helping a Country in Need
A company in Ethiopia recently opened a facility to produce coronavirus test kits and for researchers to work on developing a vaccine. This facility is a collaboration with a Chinese company called BGI Health Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister stated this facility will produce 10 million test kits a year and will export to other African countries. Field hospitals have also been opened to hold patients. To help the situation of farmers, Oxfam, a global organization for fighting poverty, is providing aid to 11,000 farming families. This aid includes seeds for maize and sorghum, tools, cash and training to monitor locust activity and threats.
The onset of COVID-19 has created a hunger crisis in Ethiopia. With lower levels of food production, job availability and environmental factors, Ethiopia’s levels of hunger and poverty are rising. The situation is hopeful, however, as efforts are being made to slow the spread of COVID-19 and address the hunger crisis in Ethiopia.
– Claire Brady