Almost half of South African families went hungry during COVID-19 lockdown: Study

Almost half of South African families went hungry last year during the national lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a study has found.

The 2020 South African Child Gauge on Food and Nutrition Security for Children was launched in Cape Town on Thursday.

“Poverty, unemployment and hunger rose dramatically under hard COVID-19 related lockdown, with 47 per cent of households running out of money to buy food in May/June 2020, while child and adult hunger increased to 15 per cent and 22 per cent,” it said.

The South African Child Gauge is published annually by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town to monitor progress towards realising children’s rights.

The study also found that as the government introduced caregiver and relief grants during the lockdown, the lack of funds to purchase food decreased to 37 per cent by July/August 2020, which was still considered to be a significantly higher level of hunger and food insecurity than pre-COVID-19 levels.

This was exacerbated by the closure of schools, where many children were participants in feeding schemes, forcing embattled parents to find ways of feeding them at home.

“The extent and impact of maternal buffering (when mothers act as ‘shock absorbers’, deliberately limiting their own consumption to ensure that children have enough to eat) emerged as a coping strategy during the COVID-19 lockdown,” said the report.

First Lady Tshepo Motsepe, who delivered the keynote address at the launch of the study, made a plea for communities to do more in fighting malnutrition among children.

“Long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, we as a country, have been acutely aware that a significant number of South Africans do not have access to sufficient food and go hungry on a daily basis,” Motsepe said.

The negative impacts that COVID-19 has had on household earnings and on prices of basic foods, paint a very dim picture regarding any progress to addressing chronic malnutrition of children.

“We salute the efforts and initiatives that communities and civil society have embarked on to bring relief to the hungry,” she said.

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