Nearly 2.2 million South Africans went hungry in April.
Famine, including among children, is likely to increase over the next few months because the mechanisms by which people could cope in this month – when only people could work in essential services – were exhausted.
In that month, 47% of households’ money to buy food ran out before the end of the month. That is more than double the 21% of people who could not afford enough food in a given month before the restriction.
The figures from a study by Servaas van der Berg, Linda Zuze and Grace Bridgman, all from Stellenbosch University, show that parents will protect their children from hunger for as long as possible if there is too little food for everyone.
For example, 21% of respondents indicated that someone in the household had been hungry the previous seven days, but a smaller percentage, 15%, indicated that a child had to go hungry.
If the food shortage becomes too severe, parents or grandparents can no longer just feed the children first – there is simply not even enough food for the children.
- 13% said someone in their household had starved three or more in the previous week. This is compared to 5% before the restriction. In households with children, 8% of the children had to stay hungry for three or more days in the preceding week.
- 7% of respondents said someone in the household was starving every day or almost every day. Among children, 4% had to go hungry every day or almost every day.
The hunger study forms part of the Nids-Cram research released on Wednesday (see information below) .
Decades of progress in jeopardy
According to the researchers, the famine among children under the age of five more than halved between 2002 and 2007 due to the expansion of the childcare allowance. However, it increased again during the global financial crisis of 2007-’08.
It took a decade before hunger among children dropped back to 2007 levels.
However, the expectation is that famine will now rise sharply again. “This recession is deeper, and its effects are more immediate.”
This is how famine among children has changed:
Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey (GHS) asks people if a child in their household was hungry at any time in the previous year. This is how the percentage of children has differed over the years.
- 2002: 35%
- 2007: 17%. The decrease compared to 2002 is largely due to the expansion of child allowances from children under six years of age to those under 14 years of age in 2005. By 2010, it was extended to children under 18 years of age.
- 2010: 22%. The rise is attributed to the impact of the recession caused by the 2007-’08 financial crisis.
- 2018: 16%. It therefore took more than a decade to recover from the economic shock of 2007-’08.
State of affairs now
The first indication of starvation among children due to the restriction is that 15% of children went hungry in the seven days before the date on which the survey was conducted. Although it is lower than 2018’s 16%, researchers warn that it shows how fast and how fiercely hunger struck during the constraint.
The researchers estimate that the percentage of children who are hungry all the time has almost doubled from 8% in 2018’s GHS to more than 15% in April this year.
In 2018’s GHS, 25% of people said their food had run out over the previous year (i.e. in 2017). In the Nids-Cram poll, 47% of people said their money for food ran out in April.
“In other words, twice as much household money for food ran out in a single month (April) as it did for the whole year (2017).”
The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on children’s access to food is described as far worse than the impact of the financial crisis.
Reserves are up
The researchers fear that things will get worse over the next few months. “The most important mechanisms to stave off hunger are to borrow money or use savings – mechanisms can only work for a short time. It is therefore likely that famine among children will increase considerably over the next few months in light of what will at best be a slow economic recovery. ”
The increase in famine is the direct result of people losing their jobs or income. The childcare allowance on its own is too little to ward off the famine among children – it can simply reduce extreme hunger, the researchers say. The researchers estimate that households need R578 per person each month to ward off famine; the childcare allowance is R440. The survey was conducted before the grant was increased by R300 per parent (not per child) in May and by R500 for June to October.
Some of the recommendations the researchers make include:
- The increase in social grants must be continued after October (grants were increased from May to October). The increase must also be granted per child rather than a caregiver.
- Schools’ nutrition schemes need to be reopened and expanded. 9.6 million school children are fed with these schemes – in a normal year on each of the nearly 200 school days. It was disrupted by the restraint. All children will only be back in school again in August – a break of almost five months in the nutrition program. Although the Department of Education has indicated that feeding schemes will be resumed even before children return to school, this is not yet the case. The researchers recommend that feeding schemes also open on weekends.
- More financial support needs to be provided to early childhood development centers. “Many centers and nursery schools may not survive the restriction. They will also come under pressure because many parents may no longer be able to afford to send their children there. Additional funding can make them more financially sustainable, which will reduce costs for poor parents and enable the centers to provide more nutritious meals. ”
About the study
The National Income Dynamics Study (Nids) Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Cram), or Nids-Cram, is the largest non-medical research project on Covid-19 to date. This is done by a consortium of more than 30 researchers from five South African and foreign universities.
More than 7,000 people were asked in 20-minute telephone interviews about aspects such as work, hunger in their household, migration, government grants and their perceptions and behaviors regarding Covid-19. The calls were made by 50 call center agents who could work in ten languages.
The researchers will issue at least five phases of the research by December this year. Phase 1’s research was released on Wednesday.
The first phase’s poll was conducted from 7 May to 27 June. In it, people were asked about the time from February to April, with April in particular being particularly difficult given that the country then experienced the strictest level of restraint.
Nids is a separate study previously conducted by researchers at the University of Cape Town on behalf of the government. Nids-Cram measures the same group of individuals, which is composed in such a way that it represents the South African population.