The impact of COVID-19 on acute food insecurity across crisis-affected countries

July 22, 2020

In the past months, REACH teams around the world have provided mounting evidence highlighting major trends linked to the COVID-19 pandemic that have a negative impact on the situation of populations living in crisis-affected countries. In particular, evidence pouring in from various market monitoring and analysis assessments showed the extent to which food security levels are being threatened in many countries. With this in mind, IMPACT Initiatives prompted a discussion with market monitoring and food security experts to further elaborate on the role of market monitoring and analysis systems, and the need for more granular data, to identify acute food insecurity in vulnerable countries during a round-table webinar discussion.

Faced with this new threat, Food Security & Livelihood humanitarian actors must go beyond the traditional wisdom for identifying acute food insecure communities in crisis-affected countries to ensure that the specific risks and vulnerabilities brought by the current pandemic are taken into account. Newly geared market monitoring and analysis tools have the potential to unearth secondary impacts of COVID-19 that are likely to further compound food insecurity for various population groups. So far, REACH has identified three key trends which have direct implications on the levels of food insecurity for affected populations. Closely monitoring these trends will prove essential if we are to respond effectively to the needs of those affected by the emerging economic and food security crisis.

Matthew Day, REACH Food Security & Livelihoods Assessment Specialist, frames the issue

It’s important from an analysis perspective that we have a coordinated understanding of how markets function in any given context. Assuring that the methodologies used are comparable is also key and represents one of the chief achievements of the REACH JMMI- providing a shared understanding among all stakeholders involved” – Matthew Day speaking at the IMPACT-led webinar

Confronting key trends identified by REACH with panel of local and global food security experts

On July 6 2020, to confront the trends identified by REACH (listed below) in relation to the impact of COVID-19 on Food Security & Livelihoods, IMPACT Initiatives hosted a webinar with a set of experts on market monitoring and analysis systems, as well as food security experts:

The webinar was the opportunity for the moderator Matt Day, Food Security & Livelihoods Assessment Specialist at REACH, to gain perspectives from the speakers on what they had seen or experienced on the field, or at the global level, in terms of the trends that were driving food insecurity. Below is a quick summary of the key takeaways from the webinar. The recording of the full session is also available online.

1) The price of food is increasing during COVID-19 era

Barbara Frattuolo, Quality Team Assurance leader at the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) explained during the webinar that the increase in price of foods highlighted by REACH was confirmed at the analysis level by her organisation, adding that increases went up to 10-20% in most countries. More concerning is situations where the increase is exponential with time, such as Syria which has witnessed a 13% increase between May and June, nearly doubling since prices from last year.

Corrie Sissons, Technical Advisor on Cash & Markets at Catholic Relief Services, and also part of the Markets in Crisis group, highlighted that while it is crucial to recognize the importance of monitoring markets, and the added-value of methodologies that are geared to identify COVID-19 specific impacts, it is also key that humanitarians look beyond and include other key indicators other than just the price of items, such as income, credits, remittances, and so on.

Also speaking at the webinar, Barat Sakhizada of the Food Security & Agriculture Cluster in Afghanistan joined Corrie in his analysis, stating that market monitoring should not be limited to price monitoring and should cover other indicators such as the access to markets, the availability of financial institutions, and their capacity.

2) Diminishing income has limited the ability of crisis-affected households to purchase food

Barbara (IPC) further supported the claim that the loss of income was affecting people in crisis-affected countries to financially access food, further stating that this loss of income was particularly heavy in urban areas where it is directly linked with the loss of employment. A trend also highlighted by REACH market monitoring assessments in cities such as in Libya and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Using the Joint Market Monitoring Initiative conducted in Afghanistan by REACH as a starting point, Barat also echoed the fact that market monitoring can be extremely helpful in identifying income sources that are vulnerable to the impacts left behind by COVID-19, such as daily wage earners, small businesses, and the likes.

Our capacity to understand how vulnerabilities will change over time will be critical in our capacity to respond to this crisis effectively. Hence the importance of further developing joint market monitoring and analysis systems during this era.” – Corrie Sissons speaking at the IMPACT-led webinar.

Matthew Day, Food Security & Livelihoods Assessment Specialist at REACH and moderator of the webinar, also reiterated the extent to which supply issues of key commodities create additional barriers for the access to food for vulnerable households and is part of a dynamic that is worth monitoring even more closely, especially in areas where access is generally limited and which already suffer from access issues.

A sentiment also shared by Barbara (IPC) who pointed out during the discussion that the loss of supply, mainly linked to border closures and movement restrictions, has severely impacted food availability, and hence further increased prices in certain countries. Relaying the situation in the Central African Republic, Barbara added that the flow of goods there extended delivery times by an average of two weeks, and increased commodity price.

Going forward – the need for more reliable evidence

As we constantly challenge our ways of thinking and implementing humanitarian action during the pandemic, it is crucial that we keep delivering assistance to affected populations that is based on reliable evidence. In contexts of great vulnerability, the added-value of data for shaping response on the ground is ever more life-saving and critical.

For more information

Opening picture courtesy of UNHCR/Eugene Sibomana.

The full recording of the webinar is available here:

For all REACH information products related to market monitoring:

For an overview of other assessments led by REACH in relation to the spread of COVID-19 in crisis-affected countries:

If you wish to liaise with us for matters relating to this topic, please feel free to contact the following people: