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Over the last few months, the world has witnessed a sharp spike in food prices and shortages of wheat supplies. The crisis can be attributed to a host of reasons, ranging from geopolitical to economic but the Covid pandemic has certainly accentuated the scale of this catastrophe.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of IMF, recently noted that “the anxiety about access to food at a reasonable price globally is hitting the roof” as food prices continue “to go up”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already warned the world of “the spectre of a global food shortage in the coming months” if no urgent international action is taken. Since last year, global food prices have risen by almost one-third, fertiliser by more than half and oil prices by almost two-thirds, as per the UN.

As the world was scrambling to take its first steps post the worst phase of the pandemic, the crisis in Ukraine came as a double whammy — disrupting food supply chains and wheat exports.

Facing a fresh spike in Covid-19 cases, it is again the world’s most vulnerable who stand to lose the most.

Devastating effects on global hunger

Add to that reduced household incomes as the pandemic continues to create devastating effects on global hunger and poverty — especially on the poorest populations.

The number of severely food-insecure people has doubled from before the pandemic to 276 million people. By the end of 2022, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates this number to rise to 323 million people.

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says that at least 132 million people have been plunged into chronic hunger since the start of the pandemic, with up to 14 per cent of food lost along the supply chain before it reaches consumers, with entire regions facing acute water stress.

As populations find staples like wheat and vegetable oils hit hardest by skyrocketing prices, import-dependent countries could soon reach a breaking point. In the Middle East, already the cost of minimum monthly food requirement is up by a whopping 351 per cent in Lebanon, 97 per cent in Syria, and 81 per cent in Yemen.

The situation is not different elsewhere. Millions of children in East Africa are facing high levels of malnutrition, due to the impact of the pandemic. With compromised immunity levels, these societies are vulnerable if a new wave of Covid-19 hits.

It becomes both a social as well a moral obligation of the world to ensure that the most vulnerable have access to food supplies.