April 28, 2020 / 12:23 PM / a month ago

Latin America to see sharp increase in hunger, poverty: FAO

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Hunger and poverty are set to spike in Latin America and the Caribbean as the impact of the novel coronavirus ravages the region´s economies and disrupts supply chains, according to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Most countries across Latin America have been forced to shutter their economies, dashing hopes for growth and sending forecasts for unemployment spiraling upward.

The U.N. agency said there should still be plenty of food available in both regional and international reserves but warned hobbled supply chains could complicate access to those stores, especially for the poor.

“Sanitary measures to prevent the spread of the virus have direct consequences on the functioning of food systems,” the FAO said in the document, which was delivered to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

The virus arrived later in Latin America than in Europe or Asia, but the region has already confirmed 150,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 7,200 deaths to date.

According to the FAO, a third of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean already live in a precarious state of “food insecurity.”

Those populations are especially vulnerable and countries need to prioritize access to food and aid to the poor as the crisis intensifies, the agency warned in the document.

“It is critical that governments declare food and agriculture as strategic and of national public interest ... so that this health crisis doesn’t turn into a food crisis,” the report said.

The U.N. agency said the global pandemic could hit both supply and demand. It warned many in Latin America would see their purchasing power wiped out, while local farmers might have more trouble accessing labor, farm inputs like fertilizer and capital.

Food prices are also likely to waver, the organization said, as supply chains are disrupted globally, forcing countries to tap new sources of food.

In 2018, the countries with the highest rates of hunger were Haiti (49.3%), Venezuela (21.2% ), Nicaragua (17%), Bolivia (17.1%) and Guatemala (15.2%), the agency said.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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