Food security emergency: At least 11.8 million South Africans are hungry
A major contributor to South Africa’s hunger crisis is the economic downturn and loss of income as a result of Covid-19, yet food prices continue to rise despite the Constitution’s assertion that all citizens have a right to sufficient food.
South Africa’s hunger crisis, fuelled by poverty and unemployment, has long existed, predating the Covid-19 pandemic and the advent of democracy to the country.
The effects of hunger cannot be overstated. They affect not only individuals, but also place a strain on the health system, with many people developing diseases from malnutrition such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Lack of proper nutrition stunts children’s growth and development.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Two is Zero Hunger by 2030. In 2015, a collaboration of global humanitarian organisations and food activists under the UN endeavoured to do the following:
- End hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
- End all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older people.
- Double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.
- Ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, help maintain ecosystems, strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and progressively improve land and soil quality.
According to the recently released 2021 Global Report on Food Crises produced by the Global Network Against Food Crises, the global drivers of hunger are conflict, economic shocks — particularly from Covid-19 — and climate crisis/weather extremes. The report estimates that there are 155 million people living in acute hunger worldwide, with Africa accounting for 63% of the global total and 40.4 million of those living in central and southern Africa.
The report states that, “Even before the Covid-19 health emergency, sluggish growth in the region’s leading economy — South Africa — along with climate shocks and increasing public debt, had led to a weak economic environment.”
According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis report, an organisation that analyses food security in the Southern African Development Community, from January to March 2021, 11.8 million people in South Africa were classified as being at IPC Phase 3, which means their level of hunger is at crisis level.
People who experience extended periods of hunger experience physiological symptoms such as a weakened immune system because to survive, the body starts using body muscle and other body organs as food. This makes fighting diseases such as Covid-19 harder as the body is already in a weakened state.
“Covid-19 does not treat us equally. Undernourished people have weaker immune systems and may be at greater risk of severe illness due to the virus,” says Operation Hunger CEO Sandy Bukula.
In order to overcome hunger, the Institute for Security Studies suggests that, “We need to address the shortfall between household income and food budgets, bolster school feeding programmes and community soup kitchens, and ensure stable access to markets for South Africa’s four million small-scale farmers.”
Section 27(1)(b) of the Constitution states that “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water” and section 27(2), mandates that “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights
South Africa’s Integrated Food Security Strategy has as its second imperative, to “match incomes of people to prices in order to ensure access to sufficient food for every citizen”. Yet, rising food prices, particularly those of essential foods, make this almost impossible.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group’s April Affordability Index report showed that many of the staple foods contained in the food basket had increased in price at a rate above inflation, yet South Africa’s minimum wage had increased by only 4.5%.
In South Africa where poverty and inequality are so high and with unemployment at 32.5%, it is difficult to see how hunger will sustainably be eradicated if there isn’t a more effective collaboration between government policies, civil society and the private sector, particularly during times of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic. DM/MC
Over the next week, leading up to World Hunger Day on 28 May, Maverick Citizen will be running a series of articles highlighting South Africa’s hunger crisis.
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