Starving Children Don’t Cry


The repercussions are endless. The United Nations warns that poverty and disruptions from the pandemic may push 13 million additional girls into child marriages. Disrupted campaigns against female genital mutilation may result in two million more girls enduring genital cutting, the U.N. said, while reduced access to contraception may lead to 15 million unintended pregnancies. The World Bank says an additional 72 million children may be pushed into illiteracy.

“We are increasingly talking about a lost generation, whose potential may be permanently quashed by this pandemic,” said Angeline Murimirwa of Camfed, which supports girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa.

An expert panel crunched the numbers and estimated that under even a “moderate” scenario of what lies ahead, an additional 168,000 children will die from malnutrition because of the consequences of the coronavirus. Think about that: Abdo times 168,000.

Many others will survive, but with lifelong intellectual impairment, or in some cases permanent blindness, caused by deprivation in 2020 and 2021. This toll is worsened because of indifference in the rich world.

“The magnitude of the problem is an outrage, but it is even more outrageous that there are powerful, proven solutions that are not being delivered at scale,” said Shawn Baker, the chief nutritionist at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Some poor countries will be able to vaccinate at most one-fifth of their populations in 2021, suggesting that the pandemic will continue to ping around the globe and smother poor countries. Partly that’s because the United States and other rich countries, at the behest of the pharmaceutical company lobby, refuse to waive patent protections to allow poor countries access to cheaper vaccines.

Gayle Smith of the One Campaign calls for three kinds of measures to help: greater efforts to distribute the vaccine globally, debt relief and assistance from wealthy countries.

The paradox is that 2020 may still be one of the five best years in human history, by such measures as the share of children dying or the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. If the world moves aggressively to address the crisis, the year could be remembered as a blip. But the nightmare is a prolonged crisis in poor countries and a turning point — on our watch — that ends the march of progress for humanity.

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