One does not have to travel far to come face to face with a worldwide phenomenon that has crept even closer to home since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we commemorate World Hunger Day on Friday, 28-year-old Mishkah Adams and her 13 dependants, of whom most are children, will remember how the pandemic forced their household to eat oats, sometimes three times a day.
Before the pandemic, Manenberg resident Mishkah, just like thousands of other South Africans, had permanent employment. She was a chef at a Sea Point restaurant in Cape Town. But as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, the restaurant was forced to close its doors in December 2020, leaving Mishka and her colleagues without an income.
After the promulgation of the State of Emergency on 27 March 2020 Mishkah stayed at home and for four months relied on the government’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters).
When her Ters fund ended, Mishkah and her household relied on food parcels from a nearby soup kitchen, a church and a local missionary.
In the meantime, two of her sisters were fortunate to be employed again. But Mishkah still experiences days when food is scarce.
“I’m frustrated, and often scold the children,” she told the Mail & Guardian.
“Sometimes there is no bread to give to the children and then they nag the whole time. Then you must go and walk in search of food. It is frustrating because I cannot give them what I have given them when I had a job.”
Mishkah is well aware that she is not the only one in her community that is unemployed and often without food.
While it appears that since the hard lockdown in 2020 the depth of overall household hunger has become less severe in South Africa, one in seven respondents in a recent survey reported child hunger in February and March this year.
Researching the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country since May 2020, the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram), recently announced its fourth report on the effect Covid-19 had on reported hunger and food insecurity in South Africa.
The proportion of households that reported running out of money for food declined from 47% in the May and June 2020 survey to 39% in the most recent survey.
Household hunger also declined from 23% during the first survey to 17% in February and April this year. Child hunger has decreased from 15% to 12%.
Despite the encouraging decrease recorded by the survey, researchers said it was crucial to analyse statistics from the fifth and final survey in the coming months “to determine whether this downward trend in child hunger continues into the rest of 2021”.
For Danny Diliberto, founder of the NPO Ladles of Love, the picture remains bleak, and might worsen in the months ahead.
Prior to the pandemic, Ladles of Love was providing about 1.2 tonnes of food and vegetables weekly to four soup kitchens across Cape Town. But only two months into the lockdown, they distributed more than 50 tonnes of food a week to 138 organisations.
Diliberto recounted to the M&G the overwhelming community support Ladles of Love received at the start of the pandemic: “We were absolutely blessed, literally millions of rands started flowing into our organisation, which allowed us to ramp up our efforts.”
However, the support from corporates and individuals is decreasing while the need is increasing, he said.
“It’s actually getting worse. To be honest, the donations are drying up so it’s becoming very challenging, and we’re getting a lot of requests from people asking if we can help. Also our beneficiaries we currently work with ask if we can give them more because their queues are getting longer. It’s definitely getting more difficult, I think this winter will be a lot harder than last winter.”
Finding a solution to hunger
With rising living costs and unemployment at 32.5%, South Africa’s rate of food insecurity and household hunger remain a concern.
“Poverty relief measures should continue to be a priority in fiscal policy decisions despite fiscal constraints,” says the Nids-Cram survey, adding that “the government needs to place hunger and food security at the center of its Covid-19 response.”
For Diliberto, sustainability is key. Assisting urban farmers to maintain their vegetable gardens can help them support their families and generate an income.
But Diliberto says that other means of support must not be underestimated. He gives the example of providing free data for children to attend school and receive an education. He adds that free data can help someone connect their local small business to a wider network of larger companies.
“If we do not as a country, as a community, come together, and the people that have do not on an ongoing basis for however many years it takes support the people that don’t have, we don’t have a chance. We will forever be chasing our tails,” Diliberto says.