The worldwide problems caused by COVID-19 seem nearly impossible to count, but millions in poverty share one obstacle that may eclipse all others: hunger.
As the pandemic has transformed into a widespread economic emergency, the issues of malnutrition and starvation have become a new and potentially life-threatening reality for millions of children — including those Compassion serves.
Ahead of World Food Day Oct. 16, a day set aside to draw attention to hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity across the globe, we recognize the heavy impact that the COVID-19 crisis has made on children and families in poverty. Our hearts ache knowing that hunger related to the virus has already led to the deaths of 10,000 children per month, according to United Nations estimates.
Compassion stands on the front lines of this issue, working with thousands of local church partners to provide more than 6 million food packs to young people and families in poverty since April. It’s just one way we’re caring for children’s holistic needs in the midst of a life-threatening season — and the fight has only just begun.
A Time of Great Anguish
For children like 9-year-old Jonas in the Dominican Republic, the pandemic has created life-and-death scenarios. Jonas’ parents, who both held decent jobs before the pandemic, could no longer work after COVID-19 hit. “We spent 30 days eating the little that we found,” says Jonas’ mother, Miguelina. “It was a time of great anguish when we could not feed our children. I knew they were hungry, and it hurt me to see my children suffering and in so much need.”
Jonas was hungry, but he didn’t tell his mother — he didn’t want to make her sad. One day, when he had no food left to eat in his home, Compassion center staff provided a lifeline, delivering a basket of food to the family.
If the center hadn’t sent this food,” Jonas says, “I don’t know what would have happened to my family and me.”
The pandemic has turned an already dire situation into an emergency for families like Jonas’, and millions are nearly out of options. In 2019, before the world had ever heard the name of COVID-19, almost 690 million people worldwide struggled with chronic hunger, according to the UN. Two billion people — nearly a fourth of the world’s population — didn’t have access to enough safe, nutritious food each day.
Then COVID-19 struck, and children have been some of its hardest-hit victims. Children whose daily nutrition depended in part on school meals — 320 million globally, according to World Food Programme — now may no longer have access to those meals. Many parents, day laborers who relied on each day’s earnings to feed their families, have lost their jobs and no longer have the income to buy groceries. As the global supply chain breaks down, many communities don’t have a large enough supply of food to support their residents.
Children and youths in the areas Compassion serves, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, are among those at greatest risk. Before COVID-19, 160,000 children in Compassion’s program suffered from moderate or severe malnutrition. Since the pandemic, 300,000 more may be at risk, based on experts’ estimates.
For many of those children, hunger may become so severe it could cause permanent physical and mental damage. Their bodies are in danger of being stunted physically, they are highly susceptible to illness, and their brains may not develop properly. The hope of reaching their full, God-given potential is severely threatened.
In nations across the world — including Rwanda, Togo and Haiti — most Compassion beneficiaries are already living on less than $3.20 per day. For many of the countries where Compassion-supported children and youths live, the need will be overwhelming long after the pandemic subsides. Compassion estimates that as a result of COVID-19, 87% of our beneficiaries in Africa will be living on less than $3.20 per day. In Asia, that number may be as high as 79% — up from 55% before the pandemic.
Beyond the 6 million-plus food packs provided so far since April, Compassion has also distributed over 3.9 million hygiene kits, as well as much-needed medical support and cash transfers to hundreds of thousands of beneficiary families.
“We have been effective at reaching children who really need our help, and they need our support even more at times like this, when things come crashing down,” says Hilary Leav, Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning for Compassion.
The support provided by Compassion helps not only a child, but often an entire family. “There were days when I thought we would have to go to bed without eating, but then the center staff blessed us with food baskets,” says Ana, the mother of a child sponsored by Compassion in Colombia. “If we had not received food from the center, this pandemic would have been even more difficult for us. I have no words to express my gratitude.”
Join the Fight
For those in poverty, a little support goes a long way. Under Compassion’s stewardship, a $40 gift provides a household with a two-week food kit, with staple foods such as rice, eggs, meat and milk that families need to survive.
“Our hearts break knowing how many children within the Compassion family are being deeply affected by hunger due to COVID-19,” says Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, President and CEO of Compassion International.
We have a responsibility to do all we can to point our resources, prayer and energy toward helping the immediate needs of these children. We can’t afford to wait.”
Please join us as we seek to point the children we reach toward a new path — one free of hunger, where they are able to step into the incredible future God has planned for them.
International reporting and photos by Tigist Gizachew, Lina Marcela Alarcón Molina, Yrahisa Mateo and Jehojakim Sangare.