As Food for the Hungry (FH) continues our commitment to seek an end to all forms of human poverty, our work is also shaped by the global trends that deeply affect the most vulnerable people in the world. These cross-cutting issues, from gender to climate change, impact every part of our work in a variety of ways. The four areas listed include some of these big issues that FH leaders are focused on. They are some of the most impactful issues that are impacting the lives of the people FH serves. As you read, please be thinking of ways that you can pray for the millions of people affected. And pray for the staff of FH. We carefully plan and activate our work to alleviate human suffering. We want to see all people reach their God-given potential. That’s a big goal, and one that requires lots of prayer.
Four Global Issues to Pay Attention to in 2021
1. Food Insecurity
In 2020, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in response to its “efforts to combat hunger.” The WFP was lauded for contributing to peace in “conflict-affected areas and acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon for war.” Yet looking into 2021, it’s clear that global food insecurity is a looming threat. The number of hungry people and those without reliable access to income and food will continue to grow. In December 2020, global food commodity prices were the highest in six years. And they are expected to rise.
Bigger than the Pandemic
The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have certainly exacerbated the impact of famines and food shortages. However, the current food crises and famines threatening many countries throughout Africa and parts of Latin America date prior to COVID-19. Many households struggle to reliably access markets, cultivate successful harvests, and feed their families nutritious foods. They often live in countries impacted by conflict, poverty, drought, and other environmental challenges. These factors won’t disappear when the pandemic ends.
2. Climate Change
Closely related to the issue of global food insecurity is understanding the myriad ways that climate change is already affecting the most vulnerable. In fact, many of FH’s disaster responses are extreme weather worsened by global climate change. In the last 20 years, we have seen more disasters, higher temperatures, and floods. According to research from the University of Notre Dame, 13 out of 20 countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change also face other significant humanitarian challenges.
Constant Recovery and Rebuilding
Cyclones and floods can wipe away years of development projects within hours. Even if no one dies in a disaster, it can take years to recover from loss of schools, health clinics, roads, and bridges. This forces people in poverty to be in a constant state of recovery and rebuilding. As we look forward to a new decade, climate-related disasters are sure to increase. Meanwhile, the other impacts of climate change — such as longer and more frequent droughts, conflict over water and land use, and scarcity of resources — will exacerbate conflict and poverty.
3. Migrants, Refugees, Asylum-Seekers, and Displaced People
By the middle of 2020, the number of people displaced by conflict, persecution, and human rights violations increased to more than 80 million. This 80 million count included more than 45 million internally displaced people (IDPs) removed from their homes but in their own countries, 29.6 million refugees and those outside of their home country, and 4.2 million people seeking asylum. Overall, fear and lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this global crisis as many countries implemented restrictive immigration policies and tragically showed “disregard for the human rights of asylum seekers and migrants” (UNHCR).
Growing Hazards for the Displaced
Meanwhile, tensions and violence between host communities and refugees and immigrants grew. The plight of people displaced from their homes, often driven by economic conditions or violence, but unwelcome in host communities in 2020 included experiences like rising xenophobia toward Venezuelan refugees in Latin America, an economic crisis threatening the livelihoods of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and stigma toward Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The world will continue fighting COVID-19 in 2021. And the pandemic will continue to shape the lives of people often denied access to livelihood opportunities and health care.
4. Gender Equity
Since the start of the pandemic, gender experts have issued warnings. They warned about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the lives of women and girls. First, there’s the obvious: Women are 70% of the world’s healthcare workers and directly face the risk of COVID-19 every day, often without adequate protective equipment. Then there’s the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on women. The UN says that while everyone is facing challenges, women bear the majority of the economic and social fallout of the pandemic.
Economic Impacts for Women
Industries such as food service, hospitality, retail, and entertainment, which employ 510 million women globally, have been hit hardest by COVID-19. In December alone, in the United States, 140,000 jobs were lost. By women. This is not to say that no men lost their jobs — but that in the month of December, overall, jobs held by American women were down 156,000 while the male workforce gained 16,000 jobs. There were major job losses in the sectors of education, hospitality, and retail. These are female-dominated industries. Additionally, families are indoors with both parents and children at home more of the time. This means women spend a lot of time shouldering the burden of more unpaid family and childcare.
The Shadow Pandemic
Finally, there is the “shadow pandemic.” This describes the rise of domestic violence for women and children trapped indoors with abusers, due to lockdowns. UN Women reports that before COVID-19 began, 1 in 3 women experienced physical or sexual violence, primarily by intimate partners. Now, data is showing an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines, and police in countries from the United States to Brazil to China. Women are reporting dramatic increases in violent incidents. Looking into 2021, as pandemic shutdowns continue and gender inequality persist, we can expect women to experience emotional, physical, and economic consequences.
How FH Responds
One of FH’s goals is to see physically and spiritually healthy families and communities. Disasters and hunger-related stressors, the impacts of climate change, conflict and displacement, and gender inequality undermine this goal. They threaten the wellbeing of children and families. That is why FH focuses on both addressing immediate needs and root causes of these issues. We know that already-vulnerable people often suffer the most when shocks hit. This sets them back and prevents them from experiencing transformational development.
In 2020, a theme of FH’s work was continuing to walk alongside vulnerable communities. We wanted to build resilience in the midst of adversity. Sometimes that meant applying social distancing measures for food distributions. We provided households with face masks, soap, and hand washing stations. FH staff created opportunities for counseling and emotional support over the phone even when it was impossible to visit homes in person.
FH’s goal is to work with families who are vulnerable, to help them become more resilient and adaptable in the face of stressors. Sometimes this means building skills that help them access new sources of income. It could mean learning drought-resistant farming strategies. Or it could require strengthening community bonds so neighbors can rely on each other.
In 2021, will you join us praying about these four global issues? Ask God to equip each of us to spread messages of peace. To give generously. For him to help us love our neighbors. And for each of us to seek justice in our communities.
And as you look for ways to do that, please consider helping FH respond to some of the most pressing crises in the world through your prayers and gifts to our Ultimate Impact Fund, allowing your gift to make a difference where it’s needed most.