Two years later: CARICOM and WFP study the impact of COVID on the Caribbean

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Since January 30, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, the socio-economic well-being of the Caribbean has been affected by multiple closures, changes in protocols travel and a drastic drop in tourism, leading to a 9.9% economic contraction in the region in 2020 (IMF) with major repercussions on lives and livelihoods in the region.

Over the past two years, developments in the situation of thousands of Caribbean people during the crisis have been closely monitored by CARICOM and its partners, the World Food Program (WFP), the Food Organization of the United Nations and Agriculture (FAO) and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management. Agency (CDEMA). The partners launched three series of surveys that tracked and analyzed elements of the socio-economic experience of the Caribbean, with a focus on access to food and markets.

According to the third and final installment of the “Caribbean Food Security and Livelihoods Impact of COVID-19 Survey”, job losses and income reductions were still common in February of last year, affecting 63% of all respondents and 90% of those in the lowest income groups.

Out of a regional population of 7.1 million, 2.7 million people were food insecure, up from 1.7 million in April 2020.

Seventy-one percent of respondents observed higher than usual food prices, with lower income groups reporting increases more frequently.

17% of the lowest income groups in the region had gone an entire day in the week preceding the survey without eating at all.

These and other results were in line with expectations.

In times of crisis, existing inequalities in access to employment, food and other needs intensify and become more visible. Those who live in poverty and face vulnerability feel it the most and their food insecurity increases. At the start of the pandemic, people dipped into their resources and changed their lifestyles to cope with movement and other restrictions, rising food prices and loss of jobs and income.

But almost a year later, things are starting to change.

Border closures have been eased leading to the biggest rebound in global tourism since the start of the pandemic, people are getting back to work… movement restrictions and curfews have eased. All of these changes have been facilitated by the biggest game-changer since the pandemic began: vaccines.

On the troubling side, however, Omicron, which emerged in November last year as the dominant variant of COVID-19, threatens much of the progress that has been made. Although known as a milder variant, its transmissibility has prompted new measures to curb the spread that have had economic ramifications for the region and the world.

Given the magnitude of the changes that have been experienced in the region since the last survey on the impact of COVID-19 on food security and livelihoods in the Caribbean, a fourth tranche was recently launched in the aim to capture developments in a post-vaccine world, as borders and restrictions on movement have eased, but new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge. The results of this survey will be used to analyze how impacts on livelihoods, food security and markets have evolved since the onset of the crisis.

The survey is open to all CARICOM Member States and Associate Members, as well as Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten until February 8, 2022 and can be accessed at: https://arcg.is/1nHPCm .

The survey, which was funded by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations (ECHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), will be used to inform national governments, regional entities and other stakeholders, such as the World Food Programme, to make more informed policy and programmatic decisions to better meet the varied needs of Caribbean populations.

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