financial crisis

In India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and throughout poorer countries, the people aren’t only worried about catching COVID-19: they’re worried about starving to death, too. 

The headlines tell the story. 

“Lockdown or Starvation? Poorer Economies Weigh Impossible Choice” – Foreign Policy

“In Zimbabwe, ‘you win coronavirus or you win starvation’” – ABC

“The human cost of India’s coronavirus lockdown: Deaths by hunger, starvation, suicide, and more” – Gulf News

“Protesting Bangladesh Garment Workers: ‘Who Will Save Us From Starvation?” – Sourcing Journal

Many Face Starvation as Donations at Shrines Stop – The Express Tribune

The head of the World Food Programme says, if the UN agency doesn’t receive critical funding, at least 30 million people could die of starvation due to coronavirus lockdowns.The World Food Programme receives financial support from governments to feed nearly 100 million people. 

“If we lost our funding … a minimum 30 million would die. Over a three-month period, that would be 300,000 people dying per day,” Ms. Beasley said. “That’s why leaders have got to balance out the COVID response with keeping the economy going because otherwise a lot more people will die from starvation and economic deterioration than from COVID itself.”

Speaking from his South Carolina home with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Beasley highlighted logistical problems. “I’ve got countries saying if you’re moving supplies, you’ve got to put your trucks and airplanes in quarantine for two weeks and I’m like ‘What? You can’t have people go without food for a couple weeks. They’ll die,’ ” Mr. Beasley said.

Waste pickers in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa fear starvation if the government does not get them financial relief due to the lockdown. Sibongiseni Mbense, a family of four, cannot support his family unless he worked at least six days per week. 

“I make about R300 a week from selling recycled waste,” he said. “It’s not much but it’s better than sitting at home like I am right now while my children are starving.”

The lockdown has been really hard for waste pickers, he said. “Our families barely have enough to eat right now. We’ve been reduced to begging for help from our neighbours and relatives. We are all pinning our hopes on the relief that the department is rolling out but we can’t wait for weeks.” In Smero, South Africa, Nozipho Mbongwa is skipping some meals so her son can eat.

In Lagos, Nigeria, many residents are more worried about starvation than COVID-19. 

“So, it’s not easy at all,” said Omolara Adejokun. “Even to buy one week’s food is not easy, talk less of two weeks. And we have three kids, and we still have our grandma that is living with us. So, it’s not easy at all, because the money to use to buy it even, we don’t have it now.”

Zimbabweans in Botswana are dependent on odd jobs. Due to the lockdown, they can’t find work. The COVID-19 crisis has left them on the edge of starvation.

“We are in a bad state,” said Josephine Mutsaka, 54, one of many Zimbabwean illegal immigrants in Gaborone. “We have no food at the moment, and the only option is to go back home. When we are in Botswana, we survive through ‘piece jobs’ but that has stopped because of the lockdown. We can’t blame the Botswana government for giving priority to its citizens.”

Clothing supply factories in South Asia have been closed. Factory owners have been financially devastated and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of garment workers at risk.

“Our situation is apocalyptic,” said Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), on behalf Bangladeshi factory owners. “The cancellations and hold instructions coming in from Western fashion retailers are pushing us to the point of insolvency, with massive open capacity and raw materials liabilities.”

Bangladesh, in particular, has seen more than $2.8 billion worth of orders canceled or postponed  due to coronavirus. In 2019, ready-made garments make up 84 percent of Bangladesh’s total exports, worth $40.5 billion, according to BGMEAN data. Two million Bangladeshi garment workers are at risk.

“The situation is very bad,” said Sharif Zahir, the managing director of the Ananta Group, which owns seven factories with a total of 26,000 workers. “The Bangladeshi supply chain is in complete disarray with many foreign brands acting irresponsibly.” His company supplies H&M, Zara, Gap, Levi’s and Marks & Spencer.

In Pakistan, the needy residing outside of shrines relied on daily communal meals, which are no longer being served due to lockdown orders. An old man, who has been living outside one of the shrines for a long time, said he had never seen such starvation. 

“[It’s] regrettable that no efforts are being made at the government level to support these segments of our society,” a human rights advocate, Abdullah Malik, said.

In California, cars line up for miles at food banks and 1,600 people stand six feet apart in line, awaiting packed bags of spaghetti sauce, canned meat, kidney beans, frozen whole chickens, sliced ham, milk, fresh apples, dry milk, bread and more. 

Alameda County’s emergency food bank hotline increased fivefold, from 40 calls Monday to 200 on Wednesday. Half had never used a food bank before, according to Michael Altfest, director of community engagement and marketing.

Chief Development Officer Roger Castle said there has “absolutely” been an increase in demand over the last few days at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

“The demand is probably from hourly employees not earning as much or being laid off completely, families that have children that rely on school lunches… and seniors that may not be able to get out to stores to get the food they need,” Castle said. 

California received 80,000 unemployment applications on Tuesday, compared to 40,000 a few days before and the typical load of about 2,000 per day, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, as he put California’s National Guard force of 22,000 on alert. 

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