As followers of Christ, the story of God’s creation reminds us that God has blessed this earth in abundance (Genesis 1:9-13; 20-31 NRSV). Therefore, it is an irony when, amid such abundance, there are those who have no food or lack access to clean water, health care, shelter and other basic necessities of life. Even clean air, for some, is in scarce supply.
The 2020 global economic downturn and other disruptions due to COVID-19 have exacerbated food insecurity, causing surging prices for food amidst public health and humanitarian challenges, according to a March 2021 report by the World Bank. The worst impacts are being felt in countries in Africa and Asia, with women and children often the most vulnerable.
On top of the pandemic, in 2020, desert locusts invaded East Africa, portions of western and southwest Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, a catastrophic infestation of crop-destroying locusts, possibly the worst in 70 years.
Before the pandemic, there had been progress in the global effort to fight poverty. Unfortunately, in 2020 an additional 88 million to 115 million people were pushed into extreme poverty due to violent conflicts, climate change and COVID-19. The stresses to global food systems caused by the pandemic have been severe.
That’s why the MCC U.S. Washington office is encouraging Christians to talk with their legislators about ways to strengthen humanitarian support for people in other countries, especially helping other countries to address the pandemic. This is one of the worldwide situations that can be improved by U.S. action.
I was heartened recently when the Biden administration encouraged the World Trade Organization to allow an emergency waiver of intellectual property rules. Requiring pharmaceutical companies to share information would allow more affordable mass production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests to reach as many places as possible.
Christians can ask legislators to support the waiver, to authorize the use of reserve funds from the International Monetary Fund and to forgive debt. All of these decisions can help developing countries afford testing and treatment options.
And it’s not too much to ask. Annually, the U.S. government allocates less than 1% of its budget for international humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance to vulnerable countries and populations. Our foreign assistance budget should prioritize addressing the basic needs of vulnerable and poor nations rather than increasing funding for the military and militarized assistance.
Our love of God must be practicalized and reflected in loving fellow brothers and sisters and making them our priority (1 John 4:7-11; Mark 12:31; Philippians 2:4).
Among those who are suffering the economic impact of COVID-19 are rural, smallholder farmers in Nigeria, such as Rhoda Gyang, a mother of five from the village of Lobiring, and Ilisha Bot, a father of three from Dogo Nahawa. They could not plant or sell their produce due to austere pandemic lockdowns in 2020.
Gyang said, “The lockdown affected the timing for planting of my crops, especially carrots, which I used to plant around May and harvest in July before the soil absorbs much rainwater, which usually affects the yield.” Gyang and Bot depend on the proceeds from dry season farming to sustain their families during the rainy season.
Without profit from that crop, Gyang and Bot struggled to afford seed for the next planting season or to feed their families. MCC’s partner Urban Ministries has been helping them, but the impact of COVID-19 will continue to negatively impact their farming this year.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 27.3 million people are facing acute hunger, out of which 6.7 million are in the “emergency” phase. Escalating militia and communal violence compound the food problem in some provinces.
Buloze Bugonge, a mother of five and a victim of militia violence, was displaced from South Kivu Province with her vulnerable household. Almost incapacitated by an auto crash, she received food assistance in the form of maize flour, salt, beans and vegetable oil from Oasis de la Culture, an MCC partner.
After she had recovered, Oasis also gave her field and agricultural tools, such as a hoe and a container for keeping seeds and food. Bugonge said, “Because of the food we are getting from our field through Oasis de la Culture, we now look like people who have life. The food grown in the field was very helpful because prices of food in the market had increased because of Covid. This food from the field was very helpful to me and my family.”
Though COVID-19 has revealed global inequalities, it also has revealed our interconnectedness and offers opportunities for deeper collaboration and a greater commitment to the common good that signifies our solidarity as a human family. Increased global collaboration is essential for confronting the pandemic and its aftershocks. We must acknowledge that “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26, NRSV).
The poorest and most vulnerable, including displaced populations, migrants, people in fragile states and those affected by conflict, continue to bear the brunt of COVID-19 disproportionately. Having insufficient access to health care, including COVID-19 vaccines, people in low- and middle-income countries have fewer resources to cope with the impacts of the pandemic.
As a human family, we must find creative ways to make resources available for all communities to bring down the level of infection, which allows people to work or grow their own food. Here are some ideas to discuss with legislators:
- Authorizing access to a free international economic reserve asset commonly referred to as “special drawing rights” (SDRs). These reserve funds, managed by the International Monetary Fund, would help countries purchase COVAX vaccines and address other needs caused by the pandemic and the economic downturn.
- Debt relief which goes beyond service payment suspensions to cancellation would allow vulnerable countries to prioritize pandemic interventions.
- As the U.S. supports an emergency waiver of World Trade Organization intellectual property rules, U.S. leaders should advocate for negotiations that respect the dignity of participating parties so that mass production and greater supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests reach as many places as possible. COVID-19 vaccine research was funded with taxpayers’ money, and it is our collective ethical responsibility to close the gap of vaccine inequality on order to defeat the pandemic worldwide.
As a “ministry of Anabaptist Churches,” MCC continues to walk with vulnerable populations to reduce poverty, increase access to social services, prevent violent conflict, strengthen peacebuilding structures and improve access to nutritional food. As Christians, and as taxpayers, we must ask our public officials to do the same. We can prioritize the alleviation of suffering in our federal budget and trust that we will lack nothing by doing so (Proverbs 11:25 and 28:27).
Remind your members of Congress to prioritize vulnerable communities in federal spending and ensure an equitable global pandemic response. Scripture reminds us to never grow tired in these efforts: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9; see also 2 Thessalonians 3:13, NRSV).