How COVID-19 disruptions exacerbated food insecurity

Animated graphic showing images of soldiers, COVID-19 and dry ground (Graphic: State Dept./M. Gregory. Images: © zef art/, © joshimerbin/, © Ivan Soto Cobos/
(State Dept./M. Gregory)

Food is an essential, but scarce, resource in many parts of the world. Global conflicts, climate change and supply disruptions from COVID-19 have exacerbated the problem. This article takes a closer look at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on today’s food crisis. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting country shutdowns shocked the global economy, worsening rising prices and hunger around the world.

Hunger was already on the rise before the pandemic hit because of factors including conflict, climate change and natural hazards, according to the World Bank.

The U.N.’s World Health Organization says that in addition to the lives lost, the pandemic, which has now killed more than 6.5 million people worldwide, posed unprecedented challenges to public health, food systems and employment.

As the deadly virus spread, workers stayed home and borders closed, disrupting trade and curtailing food production, according to a report from the Food Security Information Network (PDF, 20MB).

More facing hunger

A U.N. projection suggested that, due to COVID-19 and resulting shutdowns, an additional 30 million people may face hunger in 2030 compared to estimates if the pandemic had not occurred, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition noted in an August 22 fact sheet.

The World Bank conducted surveys that found a significant number of people in 45 countries were either running out of food or reduced consumption during the pandemic’s first year.

And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2020 study found that 41% of surveyed low-income families with children in several U.S. cities ate less fruit and vegetables because families didn’t go grocery shopping as often during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People, including a child, sitting around pile of yellow lentils (© Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
Food from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Catholic Relief Services and the Relief Society of Tigray is distributed to residents in Mekele, Ethiopia, on June 16, 2021. (© Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

U.S. doing its part

The U.S. government has been working with international partners to address the drivers of food insecurity:

  • Since February, the United States has provided over $6.2 billion in emergency food security assistance globally, including to African countries dealing with extreme hunger and malnutrition.
  • In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken convened a U.N. Security Council meeting and a ministerial meeting to help galvanize further collective action on the food crisis. The meetings resulted in the Roadmap for Global Food Security, which has garnered 103 signatories.
  • In July, the United States and partner nations convened a Supply Chain Ministerial Forum to reduce and prevent disruptions that cause shortages of food and other products.
  • Secretary Blinken has urged international partners to work together to build the resilient supply chains necessary to deliver food and ship vaccines and other products, including technologies that help fight the climate crisis.
  • The United States has donated nearly 624 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and pledged an additional $450 million to the newly established pandemic prevention, preparedness and response fund established with the World Bank and WHO.

Through the Global Action Plan, the United States is working with international partners to increase coordination with COVID-19 responses and end the pandemic by increasing access to vaccines, strengthening supply chains for medical supplies, improving access to test kits and treatments, and supporting health workers, among other steps.

At the 77th United Nations General Assembly September 13–27 in New York, the African Union, European Union, Spain, Botswana, Bangladesh and United States co-hosted meetings of world leaders to address food security and global health, including ending the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We cannot just supply food to the hungry — although that is incredibly important,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said August 5. “We also have to look at what is causing that hunger, what is driving food insecurity in the first place.”