It is still possible that food shortages will be the defining feature of the coronavirus crisis: the chance that we will need rationing remains high

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The Guardian reported last week that:

According to a report produced by the UN and other organisations on Thursday, at least 265 million people are being pushed to the brink of starvation by the Covid-19 crisis, double the number under threat before the pandemic.

None of those looming deaths from starvation are inevitable, said Beasley. “If we get money, and we keep the supply chains open, we can avoid famine,” he said. “We can stop this if we act now.”

They added:

He said the situation even four weeks from now was impossible to forecast, stressing that donors must act with urgency. He urged countries not to put in place export bans or other restrictions on the supply of food across borders, which would lead to shortages.

But Beasley also warned that staving off the threat of famine would take months, so assistance would be needed well beyond the initial response. “Our grave concern is that we could begin to put Covid-19 behind us [in developed countries] in three or four months, and then the money runs out,” he said. “And if the money runs out people will die.”

I have had concern for international development issues since the 1980s when I was involved in campaigning for Oxfam in south London. The Tax Justice Network was formed in no small part on the basis of the common experience John Christensen and I had of working with that charity. The aim of that movement was, as we saw it, to build societies in developing countries that could live without the need for aid because tax could take its place under local, and democratic, control. We're not there as yet, very clearly but the aspiration remains.

What the current situation makes clear is that there are occasions when aid will always be required. No country is isolated, whatever some politicians might think. And just as disaster hits some households so too does it sometimes hit countries, and then aid is needed. It very clearly is now. Three thoughts follow.

First, is there the will to address this issue when so many countries face crises of their own?

Second, if not, what does that say about us?

Third, it would be most unwise to think that this is solely a developing country issue. Many of the foodstuffs that might go into shortage are those that we also rely on. And in that case, do not be surprised if international supply chains are disrupted.

I've said it before, and I rather suspect that I will do so again: this crisis has a long way to run as yet. From the outset food was a major issue and I called for the introduction of rationing. In the short term this was not needed: retailers effectively solved the problem by arbitrary means. However, I sincerely hope that our government has thought about developing systems to ensure that rationing can be done if required. I am not at all confident that we will not need them as yet.

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