COVID-19. A pandemic unique to our times, with economic and social implications stretching much farther than what we can imagine. While past pandemics such as the H1N1 Swine flu, Ebola, and SARS have wreaked havoc and death around the world, none compare to the scale of isolation and quarantine COVID-19 has caused. Schools close and shift to online learning, sports leagues suspend their seasons, and entire countries—as we see in France and Italy—go into lockdown. Rarely has an event like we face now confined our entire world and forced us to stay stagnant in our homes in search of safety.
While it is important to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from harm, it is equally important to pay attention to what is happening around the world. To focus solely on ourselves is to disregard the massive changes in our society, in our economic systems, and our way of life. Dealing with the crisis is one issue; dealing with its implications after it passes is another.
We want to encourage everyone to read in their free time. Read about history’s global conflicts, economic crises, the rise of empires, and their consequent fall. History repeats itself, and studying it may help us discover our future, here in the present. Reading about history helps us compare what the leaders in those eras did, to what our leaders are doing today. Reading will help us understand the role this pandemic will play in our history books, and how it will reshape our world.
Perhaps this is a flair for the dramatic. Nevertheless, this is our appeal to keep our minds active during this time, to reflect, and to maintain our sense of critical thinking—without which we dissolve into mindless wanderers who follow, unquestioningly, whatever we are told to do. We have been secluded in our small bubbles, cut off from real life, with only our television sets and social media feeding us the news they want us to hear. Reading about our past protects us from that and helps us understand the narratives at play during this pandemic.
Let us now explore just one topic that COVID-19 has brought to light: food insecurity.
As we sit in the comfort of our homes reading this blog post, mothers around the world skip meals so their children can eat. While we are deciding which Netflix movie to watch, thousands on the streets struggle to find their next meal. Not that there is anything wrong with Netflix—but it does bring to light how inequalities affect different classes of the population.
THE PLIGHT OF IMPOVERISHED POPULATIONS
During an economic crisis, impoverished and vulnerable groups are hit the worst. While the rest of the world adapts to new ways of working, studying, and socializing, these groups struggle to survive. As a result, vulnerable populations rely on the rest of us to help them through it. With the closing of schools and businesses across the country, opportunity and economic security disappear with it. For those in need, the staying afloat state is turned off, and survival mode is turned on.
We know the groups most vulnerable to getting the disease. The United Nations Global Humanitarian Response Plan has identified the three main groups, amongst many others: (1) those suffering from undernutrition due to food insecurity, (2) refugees who lack sufficient economic resources and social support networks, and (3) those losing jobs and the income required to meet their basic needs—our very neighbours and friends.1 Let us dig deeper into how they are coping with COVID-19.
BACK TO BASICS: THE NEED FOR FOOD, EVERYDAY
In many areas around the world, large populations depend on the food they sell in stalls and markets to feed their families at night. With the mandatory isolation policies countries have imposed, these groups do not have anybody to sell to, and therefore, no money to make. As Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan puts it, “If we save them from corona[virus] on the one side, on the other side they’ll die of hunger.”2
We face the same need here in Canada. Food security is the urgent need in our communities. Many individuals have lost and continue to lose their jobs due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 2.13 million Canadians (1 in 10 workers) have applied jobless claims since the start of lockdowns.3 But the time-sensitive nature of needing food everyday is making it hard for Canadians to cope—for instance, it takes the Canadian government 28-40 days for any unemployment insurance payment to be received. For most families in this situation, it only takes two weeks until they have to turn to a local food bank. As a result, demand for food banks in North America has spiked, with most food banks reporting increases in the range of 10-50%. In New Brunswick, the Edmunston food bank saw an over 50% increase in food boxes given out.4 In other areas of the country, food banks have already shut down due to overcapacity and a shortage of food.
WHAT WE CAN DO
While we cannot transport ourselves to different areas of the world, we can still make a difference in our local communities. At Operation Poverty, our understanding of this situation is the reason our team started the COVID-19 Response Fundraiser. As an organization that takes on projects to build a future generation of leaders empowered to tackle poverty, we also recognize our social duty in helping those in need during a time of crisis. We’re here to prove that young people can still play a role and make a difference.
In all of this, the amount you give is not so much as important as the heart to give. While the end result is an important factor, it is equally vital to foster a sense of collective social responsibility during this time and bring our community together for a common cause. A cause that, amidst the troubles and difficulties we witness on our screens, demonstrates the spirit of giving and compassion that makes us humans unique—even if we are apart from one another.
– Jotham Ong & Hassan Kiani
- “Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19.” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs. Available from: https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/Global-Humanitarian-Response-Plan-COVID-19.pdf
- “Pakistan PM: ‘Cannot afford’ to shut down cities over coronavirus.” Pakistan News. Al Jazeera. 18 March 2020. Available from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/pakistan-pm-afford-shut-cities-coronavirus-200318065532802.html?fbclid=IwAR0xu1REGEVFKmavvf5ltCHosr6FPDmTmMXezHk3qzQKSOYQG_lHuDPCr78
- “Jobless Claims Reach 2.13 Million in Canada After Lockdowns.” Bloomberg. 2 April 2020. Available from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-02/jobless-claims-reach-2-13-million-in-canada-after-lockdowns
- “Sweet J. New Brunswick food banks bracing for double demand amid COVID-19 outbreak.” CBC News. 25 March 2020. Available from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/food-banks-expect-double-demand-1.5508738