Can coronavirus create biblical famines?

Can coronavirus create biblical famines?

On Tuesday, the head of the UN's food relief agency warned that the coronavirus pandemic could produce "famines of biblical proportions," as 265 million people across 30 countries face starvation.

And yet, the world right now has an historic abundance of food. How is this possible?

Even before the arrival of COVID-19, historic locust swarms had left tens of millions in East Africa without enough food. And some 85 million people across 46 countries already needed emergency food aid in 2019.


But the coronavirus pandemic, and governments' responses to it, have made matters drastically worse in ways that hurt the neediest countries the most.

First, quarantines, social distancing, and travel restrictions have, in many places, cut the number of people able to work in the fields and farms that are the first link in global food supply chains. The associated economic slowdowns have also put hundreds of millions of people in lower income countries on the brink of poverty, diminishing their ability to afford food.

Second, protectionism is making food more expensive. More than a dozen countries have restricted exports of food for fear that they themselves might run out of it. Leading grain exporters like Russia and Vietnam have already imposed quotas. Others are considering similar measures. Export restrictions send prices higher. When importing countries buy and stockpile more than they need, prices rise further.

Even where food is available, millions of people will soon find themselves unable to afford it.

This is another example of how globalized economic interdependence works well in normal times but can create havoc when crises persuade countries to close their borders.

But hunger isn't just a threat for low-income countries…

Consider these four statistics from the United States, where lines at food banks in large cities are now growing longer.

  • In the US, one of the world's biggest food exporters, almost 12% of households were "food-insecure" and 6.5 million children didn't have enough to eat even before COVID-19 arrived.
  • A report by the US Federal Reserve published in May 2019, a time of strong US economic numbers, found that 27 percent of Americans polled would need to borrow or sell something just to meet an unexpected expense of $400, and 12 percent would have no ability to pay.
  • Thanks to coronavirus-related lockdowns, more than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past five weeks.
    • Some 43% of US adults say that they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a pay cut as a result of the quarantines.

    "I knew that history was my life's calling."

    On Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie Bunch shares his journey and present-day work creating exhibits that inspire visitors to help our country live up to its ideals.

    In countries with access to COVID vaccines, the main challenge now is to convince those hesitant about the jab to roll up their sleeves, and this has become even more urgent given the spread of the more contagious delta variant. So, where are there more vaccine skeptics, and how do they compare to total COVID deaths per million in each nation? We take a look at a group of large economies where jabs are available, yet (in some cases) not everyone wants one.

    Viktor Orbán, Hungary's far-right populist prime minister, likes to shock people. It's part of his political appeal. Orbán has proudly proclaimed that he is an "illiberal" leader" creating a frenzy in Brussels because Hungary is a member of the European Union.

    It's been over a decade since the 58-year old whom some have dubbed "the Trump before Trump" became prime minister. In that time he has, critics say, hollowed out Hungary's governing institutions and eroded the state's democratic characteristics.

    More Show less

    Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

    QR codes are everywhere. Are they also tracking my personal data?

    Well, a QR code is like a complex barcode that may be on a printed ad or product package for you to scan and access more information. For example, to look at a menu without health risk or for two-factor verification of a bank payment. And now also as an integral part of covid and vaccine registration. QR codes can lead to tracking metadata or personal data. And when your phone scans and takes you to a website, certainly the tracking starts there. Now, one big trap is that people may not distinguish one kind of use of QR codes from another and that they cannot be aware of the risks of sharing their data.

    More Show less

    Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky bits of color from a Games like no other…

    Today we've got— the best freakout celebrations!

    More Show less

    Tanzania reverses course on COVID: Just four months ago, the Tanzanian government was completely denying the existence of the pandemic. Then-President John Magufuli insisted Tanzania was COVID-free thanks to peoples' prayers, and refused to try to get vaccines. But Magufuli died suddenly in March — perhaps of COVID. His successor, current President Samia Suluhu, has acknowledged the presence of the virus in Tanzania, and although she was initially lukewarm on mask-wearing and vaccines, Suluhu has recently changed her tune, first joining the global COVAX facility and now getting vaccinated herself to kick off the country's inoculation drive. Well done Tanzania, because if there's one thing we've all learned over the past 18 months, it's that nowhere — not even North Korea, whatever Pyongyang says — is safe from the coronavirus.

    More Show less

    16: A new study tracking Earth's "vital signs" has found that 16 out of 31 indicators of planetary health are getting worse due to climate change. Last year's pandemic-induced shutdown did little to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, stop the oceans from warming, or slow the shrinking of polar ice caps.

    More Show less

    Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

    Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

    More Show less

    Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

    GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

    GZEROMEDIA

    Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

    GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

    GZEROMEDIA

    Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal