The economic stress of the COVID-19 crisis is leading to increasing levels of hunger across the Caribbean, according to a recent World Food Programme survey.

Disruption to work, unemployment and higher food prices have contributed to more people in the Caribbean and the Cayman Islands skipping meals or going entire days without food, the survey indicates.

The report, ‘Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security & Livelihoods Impact Survey’, analyses data collected from 22 June-1 July from 5,708 respondents across the region. A total of 22 countries or territories, including the Cayman Islands, participated in the survey. Cayman’s data includes responses from 120 people.

Cayman fared better than most of the region in terms of food security, but responses still indicated that about a fifth of people in Cayman were struggling to find enough to eat.

Over the seven days prior to taking the survey, 18% of respondents from the Cayman Islands indicated they had skipped meals or eaten less than usual. Two percent responded that they had gone an entire day without eating, while 53% said that they’d had no difficulties eating enough food.

Click to enlarge. Source: World Food Programme

“Compared to April, while there is better access to markets, there appears to be greater job loss, higher food prices and poorer food consumption,” the report states.

“Job loss and reduced income were reported by 7 out of 10 respondents. The main worry of respondents is unemployment, followed by meeting food and other essential needs.”

The number of food-insecure people in the Caribbean more than doubled between April and the June survey, the report notes. An estimated 2.9 million people are now food insecure, compared to 1.2 million in April.

Across the region, 27% responded that they had skipped a meal or eaten less than usual in the week previous to taking the survey. Five percent said they had gone an entire day without eating a meal. Both of these numbers have risen since the World Food Programme’s survey in April, when those numbers were calculated at 16% and 1%, respectively.

Rising food prices were a contributing factor to food insecurity, with 78% of respondents across the Caribbean reporting an increase in food costs compared to 59% surveyed in April.

The Cayman Islands was included in the list of countries with the lowest percentage indicating an increase in food prices, alongside Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The countries where the highest percentage reporting increases were Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Sint Maarten, Curacao and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Unemployment was another leading contributor to food insecurity in the region.

“Job loss or reduced income was reported by the vast majority of respondents describing their household income as well below average (88%) or below average (83%), compared to about half of those describing their income as above or well above average,” the report states.

“Respondents with household income from petty trade, informal labour and support from friends and family more widely reported job loss/reduced income compared to those with salaries.”

Cayman was among the surveyed countries least impacted by job loss, beaten only by Bermuda. Still, a majority of Cayman Islands respondents indicated they had been affected, with 58% responding they had experienced job loss or reduced salaries. In Bermuda, 49% responded they had experienced the same.

Aruba ranked as the Caribbean island most impacted by job losses and reduced salaries, with 81% indicating they were affected.

In the two weeks before the survey, more than half of Cayman Islanders, 56%, said their ability to carry out their livelihoods had been affected.

Access to grocery stores and markets was one area where the survey noted improvement between April and June.

In June, 27% of respondents in the region said they could not access shopping areas, compared to 37% in April. More respondents in June indicated they could not access markets due to financial restrictions, compared to April when a leading limitation was long lines at stores.

People with a below-average income were the most likely to be impacted by lack of access to shops and markets. For 54% of individuals with an income “well-below average”, the household could not access markets or stores at some point over the previous seven days, compared to 20% of those with well-above average income.

In Cayman, 17% of respondents indicated they had difficulties accessing markets or stores in the previous week, with reasons for the issues as well as income categories not specified in the report.

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