New York

17 April 2020

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to the Virtual Extraordinary High-Level Meeting of the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition on the measures taken to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on food availability and supply [as prepared for delivery]

I am pleased to be joined today by colleagues from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme. I look forward to learning more about the work they are doing together in response to the COVID-10 pandemic.

My dear colleagues,

We face a global health crisis of unprecedented proportions. Beyond the rising death toll, societies are in turmoil and economies looking to be in freefall. The risks faced by people everywhere go far beyond the virus itself. The pandemic, and the measures taken to mitigate it, are already having very serious social and economic consequences, including on our food systems.

Border closures are already disrupting trade and markets - especially our supply chains - causing price rises in some countries. In others, people are struggling to find the resources to buy food, because they have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 and the restrictions needed to suppress its transmission.  Elsewhere, restrictions on the movement of agricultural workers is increasing spoilage and waste.

Those hit hardest are those who were at greatest risk before the pandemic. More than 820 million people are already undernourished, of whom more than 100 million people in over 50 countries suffer from crisis or emergency levels of hunger. Two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Most of them face multiple deprivations and forms of inequality, particularly rural communities, women and young people, and our elderly.

It will not take much to tip millions more people into food insecurity. An economic shock on the scale we are experiencing presents a real and present danger. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, more people lost their lives as a result of the interruption of social services and economic breakdown than from the virus itself.

We really mustn’t allow this to happen again – this time, on a global scale.

We must act now, in a coherent and coordinated way, if we are to prevent COVID-19 from resulting in widespread hunger and food insecurity.   

Dear Colleagues,

Food insecurity, as dangerous as it is, is just one aspect of the potential damage caused by what economists believe could be the deepest global recession since the 1920s.

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting and amplifying inequalities, injustices, gender-based violence and the failures and inadequacies of social safety nets.

In acting to prevent hunger, we must connect health policies and initiatives to broader social, economic and environmental well-being.

We must work towards a safe and equitable recovery of societies and economies as soon as possible. And our long-term goal must be sustainable, inclusive, carbon-neutral development, with gender equality and human rights and dignity for all. In other words, we must not let COVID-19 put a hold n the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

The United Nations has already put measures in place to support Governments and economies in this task.   

The Secretary-General recently launched COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, while the United Nations Development System has put in place a socio-economic framework to protect the needs and rights of people living under the duress of the pandemic, focusing on the most vulnerable countries, groups, and people.

This is a time for solidarity and I am impressed by the work that the UN development system, and especially the three Rome-based agencies – FAO, IFAD and WFP – have already undertaken, and I look forward to hearing more at this briefing.

Dear Colleagues,

We are well into uncharted territory. As the Secretary-General has said, this pandemic is the worst crisis the world has faced since the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations.

However, we do have a compass and a map. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains as relevant as ever.

The Sustainable Development Goals are exactly the tools we need to beat this pandemic and build back better. They provide a guide we can follow now, today and tomorrow to build the world we want to live in.

Next year’s Food Systems Summit will be an important waypost on the road to achieving Goal 2: Zero Hunger. I welcome the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Summit, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, to today’s meeting.  

The policies we put in place now will shape the future of our food systems and supply. We must know that this pandemic has forced us to reflect on how we can build and rebuild better.

As we work on the immediate response to the pandemic, we must seize the opportunity to build back better by considering the complex links that underpin our food systems.

Now is the time to build the sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems that we need to achieve the 2030 Agenda and create a better future for all on a healthy planet.

Thank you.