'Forty per cent of households in region experience hunger'
The Economic Commissionfor Latin America and theCaribbean says special attentionmust be paid to food securityalong with the other impacts ofthe pandemic on the health ofthe Caribbean population, giventhat these countries are netimporters of agricultural foodproducts.

THE Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has pointed to the dangers of deficiencies in food security that countries in the region are facing, with 40 per cent of households surveyed in the Caribbean experiencing some form of hunger.

It noted that up to 42 per cent of said they have faced moderate to severe hunger during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A survey of eight Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, Barbados, Barbuda, Belize, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, found that 15 per cent of households in these countries indicated that the impact of the pandemic on their livelihoods, which affect how they eat was severe, and 41 per cent said they experienced moderate negative effects.Estimates of food and nutritional security last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and others showed that the Caribbean subregion is the worst affected in the current situation, where 59 million people in the region are likely to be undernourished. This is a 56 per cent increase over the estimate for 2015.Details of the findings are in ECLAC's flagship annual Social Panorama of Latin America 2021 report, which was launched last Thursday by executive secretary, Alicia Bárcena. It includes the latest poverty, inequality and social spending figures in the context of the prolonged novel coronavirus pandemic.The commission has projected that the number of people living in extreme poverty in the region will increase from 81 to 86 million, while the total number of people living in poverty will decline slightly from 204 to 201 million.It pointed that rising food prices, coupled with declining incomes, have meant that many households have not had access to food to meet their nutritional needs.

“This is of special concern for the elderly, children, people with non-communicable diseases, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, since a shortage of food can cause their health to deteriorate or increase their risk of dying should they become infected with COVID-19,” said the report.ECLAC stressed that special attention must be paid to food security along with the other various impacts of the pandemic on the health of the Caribbean population, given that these countries are net importers of agricultural food product.

“It is essential to establish or strengthen mechanisms for monitoring key indicators such as macroeconomic variables, food prices and availability, together with measures to protect family farmers, incentives for public food purchases and mass food deliveries, among other measures,” the commission said.Meanwhile, ECLAC is reporting that five English-speaking Caribbean countries – Jamaica, The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago – based on data for 2008–2020, have shown a significant rise in average social spending by central government, similar to that of the Latin American countries.However, the regional United Nations body said although in some countries, particularly in the case of Jamaica, there was a gap of 8.3 percentage points between the highest and lowest spending on social functions, attributable to “the heavy weight of interest payments”, not to fiscal policy initiatives.The five named countries recorded social spending increases from 11.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019 to 13.3 per cent in 2020. On average, central government expenditure on social services increased by one percentage point, well below the average share reached in Latin American countries, but in the average of total public spending as a percentage of GDP, the difference is in favour of the Caribbean countries, where it was 6.9 percentage points higher than in the average of Latin American countries in 2020, ECLAC said.Further to that, it was noted that per capita public social spending averaged US$1,650, the highest value recorded, and 55 per cent higher than in Latin American countries. Jamaica is among a batch of nine countries in the region, which averaged low to slightly less than mid-per capita amounts of between US$514 and $760, based on ECLAC's analysis.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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