Thanksgiving is my favorite U.S. holiday — a time to count our blessings and be grateful for all that we have. It is also a time to consider those who are less fortunate than ourselves, including so many around the globe who are going hungry this year.
After decades of progress, world hunger is sadly on the rise. Last year, 690 million people went hungry, and with COVID-19, that number is growing rapidly. The pandemic has caused job losses and market closures. As a result, more people are struggling to feed their families. The United Nations predicts that as many as 132 million people could go hungry by the end of this year.
To meet this growing need, Action Against Hunger and other humanitarian organizations have stepped up to create new ways of helping the most vulnerable in these trying times. At my organization, we are using the challenges presented by COVID-19 to find more cost-effective, impact-driven approaches to preventing and treating hunger — innovations that have staying power beyond the pandemic.
Here are three ways in which we are using trying times to leapfrog progress in nutrition programs around the world:
1. Bringing care closer to communities: Even before COVID-19, there was a growing movement to treat malnutrition not only in faraway hospitals but close to families. During the pandemic, community-based care is critical because many people fear potential exposure to the virus if they travel to health clinics. To help them avoid crowded centers, health workers and volunteers go door-to-door and hold outdoor sessions for community members, screen children for malnutrition, administer vaccines, and educate families about a range of health issues.
2. Help farmers become more self-sufficient: As COVID-19 has restricted trade and movement and affected food supply chains, supporting local food production has become even more important to ensure families have enough. Equipping farmers with the tools they need — seeds, farming techniques, money to get started, and solutions that account for persistent droughts, rising seas, and flooding — are key to helping farmers now and in the future.
3. Using technology to fight hunger: Artificial intelligence is helping herders in West Africa’s Sahel region to find food and water for their livestock. The Pastoral Early Warning System (PEWS) lets herders know—via local radio, texts, and bulletins—where to find water and food for their herds, as well as market prices and animal disease trends. They receive updated information every 10 days, enabling them to navigate droughts, heatwaves, bushfires, and even closures due to COVID-19. Though this technology has been available for years, COVID-19 has pushed us to accelerate and innovate the ways we use them, adapting to rapidly changing world events along the way.
When this pandemic is behind us, we will have become even more efficient and effective in our approaches to preventing and treating hunger. This Thanksgiving, we are reminded that the need is great, but so is the opportunity for impact. And that is truly a reason for gratitude.
Written by Dr. Charles E. Owubah, CEO of Action Against Hunger. The world’s hunger specialist, Action Against Hunger served more than 17 million people in more than 45 countries last year.