A year since the global declaration of the pandemic, the deepening socio-economic impacts in the Caribbean are of grave concern. Under the leadership of CARICOM, the World Food Programme has supported the three rounds of the CARICOM COVID-19 Food Security and Livelihoods Impact Surveys, which have provided a wealth of information for national governments, regional entities and other stakeholders to make more informed policy and programmatic decisions to best meet the varied needs of the people throughout the Caribbean.
In times of crisis, existing inequalities in access to employment, food and other needs intensify and become more visible. Those living in poverty and facing vulnerability feel it most, and their food insecurity increases. At the onset of the pandemic, people tapped into their resources and made lifestyle changes to cope with movement and other restrictions, increasing food prices and lost jobs and income.
Over time, the realities of those earning above and below average wages tell a more nuanced story. While households with above and well above average incomes are better equipped to manage up to this point, poorer households are increasingly relying on reducing food consumption and negative coping strategies that undermine their wellbeing in the long run in order to keep food on the table today. They are increasingly struggling to access food due to lack of resources. The longer this crisis goes on, the greater the risk of deepening inequalities unless more is done.
The crisis has highlighted the importance of expanding social protection to reach those most in need, however gaps remain in providing assistance to some of the poorest households, including migrant communities. The crisis has also brought to greater prominence the well known need to strengthen Caribbean food systems from production to marketing to transportation to consumption.
While local production is more important than ever, evidence suggests that measures designed to curb the spread of the virus have also impacted livelihoods of people engaged in farming and fishing, highlighting a major gap in promoting and achieving food security in the region.
Caribbean governments face many challenges ahead. It is a balancing act to address the toll on major industries like tourism, navigate limited fiscal space while clearing external debts, supporting increasing needs due to loss of livelihoods, while managing a COVID-19 response that protects both the health and the wealth of the nation. The availability of vaccines in the region represents a positive development in the fight against the spread of the virus with hopes of a return to a sense of normalcy and a greater predictability to pursue livelihoods.
The pathway to managing these impacts relies on strong partnerships in support of countries throughout the Caribbean, putting people at the centre of economic response and recovery efforts. There is a need to balance macro and microeconomic perspectives in the recovery from COVID-19. Governments, regional institutions, the international community and the private sector can come together to help countries get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
WFP Caribbean is grateful to partner with the CARICOM Secretariat, to administer these surveys and to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency management Agency (CDEMA) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for their contributions. These surveys are also made possible in partnership with the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).
Representative and Country Director, a.i.
WFP Barbados and the Multi-Country Office for the English and Dutch Caribbean