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Dear Friends and Colleagues

Impact of COVID-19 on the Human Right to Food and Nutrition

FIAN International has conducted a preliminary analysis of the impact of COVID-19 and the measures taken by governments around the world to contain the pandemic, on the human right to food and nutrition. In a context of existing structural inequality and discrimination, the current health emergency is leading the world to a food crisis. In March 2020, the Committee on World Food Security pointed out that food access, nutrition, stability and people’s ability to exercise agency over their relationship to food systems will all be compromised as inequalities are increased.

People’s inclination to panic-buy and hoard food due to a fear of scarcity is leading to shortages of certain types of food. Likewise, access to adequate food has been restricted by virtue of prioritizing supermarket chains over local markets and local cooperatives as food distributors.

The current situation requires urgent action to contain the pandemic, but so too to prevent further exclusion and social injustice, concludes the report. On the basis of its preliminary findings, FIAN International recommends that governments the world over ensure the respect, protection and promotion of the human right to food and nutrition and all related human rights in all decisions and measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

States should put in place mechanisms to monitor the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain it on the right to food and nutrition. They should also, among other affirmative actions:

  • Adopt social protection mechanisms for marginalized groups and those most vulnerable, such as distribution of food, basic income programs and special shelters for women affected by domestic violence, which is exacerbated by confinement measures.
  • Ensure that small-scale food producers maintain their capacity to produce and provide adequate food.
  • Take specific measures to ensure access to safe water for marginalized groups.
  • Ensure the adequate protection of agricultural workers, including migrant workers.

Human rights violations and the generation of pandemics go hand in hand with ecosystem destruction and human-made global warming. The current pandemic therefore calls for public policies that fundamentally change the way in which our societies are organized and how our economic system operates.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twn@twnetwork.org
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
To subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net

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 Item 1

COVID-19 MARKS BEGINNING OF LOOMING FOOD CRISIS

https://www.fian.org/en/press-release/article/covid-19-marks-beginning-of-looming-food-crisis-2300

Press Release, April 8, 2020 

The impact of the virus and the measures to counteract them are intensifying the structural causes of hunger and malnutrition worldwide, but innovative, coordinated and human rights-based responses can rescue us from disaster, warns a new FIAN International report.

Twelve years after the food price crisis in 2007/2008, the world finds itself in the midst of one of the most dramatic global, multifold, crises of our times. The pandemic of COVID-19 is not only leading humanity to an unprecedented health emergency, where the shortcomings of our health care and social systems are being most exposed, but it is also exacerbating hunger and malnutrition.

As echoed by a monitoring report released today by FIAN International, the impacts of the pandemic and the measures to stop contagion are intensifying ongoing human rights violations that prevent people’s access to adequate food. Those who are already in situations of marginalization and vulnerability due to low socio-economic status, racism, sexism and other types of discrimination are facing a higher risk of food insecurity.

Albeit triggered by COVID-19 and the preventative measures that have been put in place to contain it, the emerging food crisis finds its foundations in decades of neoliberal policies and practices that have been exacerbating disparity and discrimination. This, the report argues, is why not only targeted measures are needed to face this pandemic, but also public policies that fundamentally change the way in which our societies are organized and the economic system operates. We simply cannot go back to normality.

The Preliminary Monitoring Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Human Right to Food and Nutrition lists the dire impacts of the current crisis on people’s lives and also highlights local and national responses, including by grassroots communities and social movements, that can serve as an inspiration elsewhere. On the basis of these preliminary findings and of the structural causes of hunger and malnutrition, FIAN International gives a series of recommendations for governments the world over.

Impacts on access and even distribution

People’s inclination to panic-buy and hoard food due to a fear of scarcity during times of crisis is leading to shortages of certain types of food. This means that affordable prices and availability of food are being kept out of reach for those with limited mobility or resources. Likewise, access to adequate food has been restricted by virtue of prioritizing supermarket chains over local markets and local cooperatives as food distributors. In practical terms, ultra-processed and industrialized products are more readily available than fresh and organic food sustainably produced by peasants and other small-scale food producers (like fisherfolks), which doesn’t only have a dire impact on the income of the latter, but also prevent people from accessing healthy and diverse diets.

Indeed, restrictions in terms of access and quality are expected to impact more severely those already facing hunger and malnutrition. Simply put, those who are overweight and obese – both forms of malnutrition – who account for more than 1.9 billion and 650 million adults respectively around the world are more likely to develop more severe symptoms and complications when infected with COVID-19. Equally, those who are undernourished, who accounted for 821 million already before the outbreak, have a lower immunity to fight against the virus.

If measures restricting mobility to prevent contagion have deeply affected one demographic in particular, it is the hundreds of thousands of temporary, seasonal – often migrant- workers, who are unable to travel for their work. This is not only sparking concerns about loss of employment opportunities and income for this group, but also of a looming shortage of fresh produce and a substantial amount of wasted food.

Successful community, government responses

In times of crisis, calls for moral responsibility and solidarity are not always enough and state regulations are sometimes necessary. In order to counter potential food price volatility and shortages of essential foods, Argentina and Colombia have introduced measures to regulate prices and ensure rationalization of essential products.

As shelves in supermarkets were being emptied and fresh food was piling up and perishing in local farms, peasant organizations have also actively mobilized in France and Romania to oppose the closure of peasant markets. This has led to government guidelines that clarify that local food markets should take place, while following measures to ensure sanitary conditions to prevent contagion. Similarly, social protests by food street vendors have led to significant reactions in countries like South Africa, where grocery stores, wholesale produce markets and informal food traders are allowed to remain open. This will ensure that marginalized and poor households are less at risk of food and nutrition insecurity.

In some countries the closure of schools is reducing the access to food for children, or has replaced school feeding programs with fast food. Civil society initiatives in countries like India are advocating for programs that ensure home-delivery of nutritious meals to children, as well as to pregnant and lactating mothers.

The current situation requires urgent action to contain the pandemic, but so too to prevent further exclusion and social injustice, concludes the report in its recommendations. From protecting the world’s main food providers, peasants and other rural workers, to ensuring tailored mechanisms to protect those most marginalized, there are a number of measures that can substantially improve the lives of millions in this looming food crisis.

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Item 2

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON THE HUMAN RIGHT TO FOOD AND NUTRITION
PRELIMINARY MONITORING REPORT

FIAN International
April 2020
https://www.fian.org/files/files/Preliminary_monitoring_report_-_Impact_of_COVID19_on_the_HRtFN.pdf

[EXCERPTS ONLY]

Our Recommendations

Based in this first analysis, FIAN International calls upon states to:

  • Ensure the respect, protection and promotion of the human right to food and nutrition and all related human rights in all decisions and measures taken to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. This requires to adopt all measures on the basis of an analysis on the impact that these will have on the right to food and nutrition, as well as other human rights – especially on disadvantaged and marginalized groups, in cases of retrogressive measures. If differentiated impact is foreseeable and unavoidable, States are required to take affirmative measures to ensure substantive equality and avoid further marginalization of people in their enjoyment of their human right to food and nutrition and related rights.

Some specific measures to be taken immediately by states should include:

  • Adopt social protection mechanisms for marginalized groups and those most vulnerable, such as distribution of food, preferably of food produced by local small-scale food producers – such as peasants, artisanal fishers, pastoralists, indigenous peoples. Support mechanisms for marginalized groups may include basic income programs to ensure the vital minimum and shall take into account the interdependency that the rights to food, housing, health and water have in the basic budget of households. Such measures shall have a gender perspective which takes into account the different forms of discrimination and violence which women face. In this sense, basic income programs shall target in particular women who have to carry out increasing unpaid care work due to the closure of schools and other lockdown measures. States shall also provide special shelters for women affected by domestic violence, which has been exacerbated by confinement measures. The digitalization of means for food assistance shall in any case be exclusive and states shall ensure the maintenance of payments in cash to ensure access to food.
  • Ensure that small-scale food producers maintain their capacity to produce and provide adequate food, for example through the support to agroecological production, the fostering of short local circuits and supply chains and ensure the adequate functioning of local food markets, as well as other means of provision of food produced by local, small-scale food producers. In order to avoid the risks of contamination, local and national governments should provide guidelines to ensure that local food markets comply with all needed measures to ensure physical distancing, control of the flow of clients, use of disinfectant and gloves, among others. Measures may also include promoting the distribution of weekly food packages provided by local food producers; especially in cases of needed lockdowns.
  • Make sure that containment measures do not result in favoring supermarkets and industrial/processed food over other sources of food provision, including food markets, grocery stores, and informal food vendors.
  • Maintain or find appropriate alternatives to school feeding programs, food shelters and banks or other similar institutions in order to ensure access to adequate, fresh food to those people that depend on them, always ensuring adequate means to prevent contagion.
  • Take specific measures to ensure access to safe water for marginalized groups to ensure that they can also implement preventive behavior to avoid contagion and have adequate access to food.
  • Implement measures to restrain panic buying and food waste, and ensure availability of food in cases of panic waves. This may require specific regulation for supermarkets, to ensure rationalization in selling and/or price controls.
  • Provide guidance to workers involved in food production, handling and processing on measures that reduce the risk of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, as well as ensure that labor supervision works to impede abuses by employers. In this context, states shall give special attention to the differentiated impact women or LGTBI people.
  • Ensure the adequate protection of agricultural workers, including migrant workers, avoiding unnecessary restriction of movement and ensuring adequate lodging and other working conditions, which allow keeping the hygienic measures and adequate salaries. In cases where migrant workers cannot access their work place, states are required to ensure access to adequate food, health services and social security. If other marginalized groups are employed to carry out work usually done by migrant workers, states shall to ensure decent conditions of work and full respect of international and national labor standards.
  • Introduce measures that redistribute economic wealth and other public goods for the benefit of health. • Put in place mechanisms to monitor the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain it on the right to food and nutrition. Information should be disaggregated by gender, socio-economic status, age and other relevant criteria, and should include testimonies by grassroots communities and affected groups.
  • Ensure access to effective recourse mechanisms and remedies for those affected by COVID19 and the measures to contain it.
  • Ensure that national human rights institutions independently exercise their functions for the protection of the right to food in the frame of the COVID-19 crisis, through means that ensure the respect of physical distancing measures.
  • Ensure democratic processes and control over measures taken to contain the pandemic and address its impacts, such as consultations and parliamentary legislative process. Adequate participation, public scrutiny and accountability mechanisms need to be put in place in order to uphold the principles of democracy and people’s sovereignty – always taking into account the specific constraints of the current crisis.
  • Ensure that all measures taken to address the economic crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as bailouts and stimulus packages, focus on protecting and promoting human rights, in particular those of marginalized people and those at risk. Monitoring mechanisms to assess the impacts of the measures shall also be put in place.

At international level, FIAN International calls upon states to:

  • Ensure that their actions do not cause foreseeable harm beyond their borders, nor hamper the ability of other countries to honor their human rights obligations.
  • Uphold their obligation, individually and as members of international organizations and international financial institutions, to cooperate in order to safeguard the rights of those most at risk and to guarantee an enabling environment for human rights during the current crisis, instead of acting solely based on their own national interests. In the context of food governance, we remind states that the CFS is the most inclusive international governance platform and should therefore take the leading role in coordinating a global response to guarantee food security and the enjoyment of the right to food, in close collaboration with other competent agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Adopt measures to relieve the debt of all low and middle-income countries, as a means to enable them to mobilize “maximum available resources” to protect those at risk during the pandemic.
  • Stop economic sanctions which impede states to protect and fulfil the human rights of their population

Even though the current situation requires urgent action to contain the pandemic whilst respecting human rights, it lays bare the fundamental, structural problems of our societies, which generate exclusion, violence and injustice. Human rights violations, and the generation of pandemics, go hand in hand with ecosystem destruction and human-made global warming. The current pandemic therefore also calls for public policies that fundamentally change the way in which our societies are organized and the economic system operates.

 


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