Covid-19: ActionAid warns about impact of famine

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As the World Food Programme reports the number suffering hunger could increase from 135 million to 250 million, ActionAid raises concern over communities already suffering food crises.


This month, ActionAid Zimbabwe is distributing food in partnership with the World Food Programme, providing life-saving support to more than 92,800 people in Makoni and Nyanga. For the 7.7 million Zimbabweans who already don’t have enough to eat or drink, the consequences of Covid-19 are crippling as jobs are lost overnight and livelihoods are completely shut down.

Unemployment is as high as 80% in Zimbabwe and food prices are now soaring - in February, the price of maize grain was already up 33.3% compared to January, according to an ActionAid Zimbabwe monthly food survey for Makoni District.

As an international charity working with women and girls living in poverty, ActionAid is warning that women will bear the brunt of the global pandemic. In developing countries, more than two thirds of women work in the informal economy and millions of garment factory workers, domestic workers and vegetable sellers who have lost their jobs are now unable to feed their families.

South Africa:

Since the start of the lockdown, ActionAid South Africa has been inundated with calls and messages on social media from women in desperate need of food support. In South Africa, many women work in informal, day-to-day jobs such as domestic work or running street kiosks and often they’re the breadwinner for their household. These women cannot work during the lockdown and even though food is available in the shops, they simply can’t afford it.

In some communities, women are having to prioritise food over everything else – products like sanitary towels are becoming luxuries. ActionAid South Africa has started distributing food parcels in one province and will extend this to approximately twenty communities in three provinces.

Nondumiso Nsibande, Country Director of ActionAid South Africa, says: “We’re definitely seeing food shortages in the communities where we work – the level of need is alarming. We get messages from women who are single mothers, saying they can’t buy food for themselves and their children. It’s heartbreaking.”


In some countries where ActionAid works, people are left with no choice but to flout public health advice.

Andrew Mamedu, Head of Resource Mobilisation at ActionAid Nigeria, says, “With communities now on lockdown for more than two weeks, with no assurance of receiving food or financial support from the government, we’re finding that people are becoming more resistant to listening to public health advice about Covid-19.

“Understandably, people want to provide food for their families. Social distancing and staying at home are making that impossible for many workers, particularly in the informal sector. They could be safe from coronavirus but still die from starvation.

“To help people stay safe and reduce the spread of Covid-19, we also need to urgently address the issue of hunger. ActionAid Nigeria will be distributing food support in four states, including Lagos and Abuja. These areas are recording the highest number of cases and have been in lockdown for almost a month.”


Hunger is also a major concern in Bangladesh where there is a huge population of day labourers, vegetable sellers and small business owners, who can no longer earn money during lockdown.

ActionAid Bangladesh is working with local women to provide food for vulnerable communities, including 100 families in Cox’s Bazar town, 60 marginalised Dalit families in Gaibanda district and 25 families in Barisal, an isolated river island.

Local women and women’s rights organisations are leading ActionAid’s response because they have invaluable knowledge of their area and the needs of women and girls. Using this knowledge and drawing on existing connections within the community, they are mobilising quickly and efficiently in response to Covid-19, reaching the most marginalised women and girls.


In India, migrant families have returned to their hometowns following lockdown and are without any work. Migrant workers in jobs like construction, agriculture, garment making, mining and domestic labour form the backbone of India’s economy, but have lost their work overnight without any protection.

In response, ActionAid India is running 15 community kitchens for migrant and informal workers, with 120,000 families reached so far. ActionAid’s Gauravi support centre in Bhopal, which is a shelter for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, has also become a one-stop shop for the virus response. Centre volunteers are using their rickshaws to transport hot food and dry rations to people in need.

Available spokespeople:

· Joy Mabenge, Country Director of ActionAid Zimbabwe

· Nondumiso Nsibande, Country Director of ActionAid South Africa

· Andrew Mamedu, Head of Resource Mobilisation at ActionAid Nigeria

· Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh

· Debabrat Patra, Associate Director of ActionAid India


For further information or interview enquiries, please contact If out of hours, please call 07753 973 486.

Notes to editors:

ActionAid works with women and girls living in poverty. Our dedicated local staff are changing the world with women and girls. We are ending violence and fighting poverty so that all women, everywhere, can create the future they want.