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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.

    Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

    Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

    Over the weekend, some 40,000 Russians braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

    But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

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    The United States has never been more divided, and it's safe to say that social media's role in our national discourse is a big part of the problem. But renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher doesn't see any easy fix. "I don't know how you fix the architecture of a building that is just purposely dangerous for everybody." Swisher joins Ian Bremmer to talk about how some of the richest companies on Earth, whose business models benefit from discord and division, can be compelled to see their better angels. Their conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

    Ian Bremmer's Quick Take (part 1):

    Ian Bremmer here, happy Monday. And have your Quick Take to start off the week.

    Maybe start off with Biden because now President Biden has had a week, almost a week, right? How was it? How's he doing? Well, for the first week, I would say pretty good. Not exceptional, but not bad, not bad. Normal. I know everyone's excited that there's normalcy. We will not be excited there's normalcy when crises start hitting and when life gets harder and we are still in the middle of a horrible pandemic and he has to respond to it. But for the first week, it was okay.

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    Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

    Russian opposition leader Navalny in jail. Hundreds of thousands demonstrating across the country in Russia over well over 100 cities, well over 3000 arrested. And Putin responding by saying that this video that was put out that showed what Navalny said was Putin's palace that costs well over a billion dollars to create and Putin, I got to say, usually he doesn't respond to this stuff very quickly. Looked a little defensive, said didn't really watch it, saw some of it, but it definitely wasn't owned by him or owned by his relatives.

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    The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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