Hunger: The Next Pandemic

Scientists warn that pandemics are the new normal. What can we do to turn things around?

In mid-March, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in North America, Madonna appeared in a video shared to her social accounts soaking in a luxurious bathtub, in milky bath water surrounded by rose petals as quiet piano music played in the background. She told her fans that the virus doesn’t discriminate and that it was “the great equalizer”. At the time, many shared that sentiment. After all, we were all stuck at home, facing flour and toilet paper shortages, worried about contracting the virus.

Nine months have passed since Madonna made that bold statement, but the coronavirus has proven to be anything but a great equalizer. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow, both in the developed world, and to a much greater extent, in more poor countries.

With the coronavirus disrupting agricultural production and supply routes, along with high rates of unemployment worldwide, a global food crisis looms large. Even before the pandemic, the rates of world hunger had begun to grow in 2018, after steadily declining for a decade. Over 800 million people are now starving, which is considered a separate pandemic all of its own. For many, the threat of dying from hunger is greater than the threat of death from the coronavirus. Experts say that the food crisis that’s coming will be the greatest hunger crisis the world has ever seen, and it could double the number of people facing acute starvation to 265 million by the end of this year.

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, scientists warn that pandemics are the new norm. We’ve pushed the environment and other species that inhabit the earth to their limits: clearcutting tropical forests and other wild landscapes to feed the global north’s hunger for minerals, lumber, and other resources. David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times: “we cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Hunger, poverty, and climate change are complex problems with deeply intertwined roots and we have to start solving these problems now. We can begin by learning more about these global issues and how we can be a part of the solutions. We can make daily choices and take actions that are kinder to the earth and its inhabitants.

We can vote for political candidates who promise action and we can write to our current leaders, urging them to address the current climate crisis, the hunger pandemic, poverty, and other crises. We can support organizations who are working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, both with our time and our financial resources. Business owners can align their goals with the UN’s social development goals. And as consumers, we can invest in and do business with companies who are committed to change, with carefully measured social impact indicators.

The COVID-19 pandemic may not have been the great equalizer that we first believed it to be. But it has reminded us all of how closely linked our communities are, throughout the country and around the world. We all have a responsibility to look after each other and to take care of the planet for future generations. It’s time to pull the plug on complacency.

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Written for Riddl by Jill Mersereau