It will surprise few South Africans that the latest wave of the Nids-Cram survey found that food insecurity has not yet abated from its already very high levels.
The figures show that the number of respondents who ran out of money for food in the past month dipped slightly to 39% in January, from 41% in October. Equally, the incidence of children experiencing hunger in the past week inched down to 14% of households polled, from 16% before.
So, while hunger has moderated a bit since the strict lockdown of last March, it’s clear the situation is not back to normal.
When you compare these Nids-Cram results to those of Stats SA’s annual General Household Survey (GHS), it reveals that lack of money to buy food is a much bigger problem than it was before Covid.
The GHS asks people whether they have run out of money to buy food any time in the past year, and whether children experienced hunger in that time. In contrast, Nids-Cram asks whether someone has run out of money to buy food in the past month, and if children have experienced hunger in the past seven days. This allows better tracking of trends during Covid.
However, as the graph shows, the proportion of households where children have gone hungry in the past week is about the same as that which experienced hunger in a year, in previous years.
This implies that childhood hunger has worsened considerably, taking the country back perhaps two decades to levels last seen in the early rollout of the child support grant.
There are implications for policymakers too. While improving overall economic conditions must, of course, be high on the government’s policy agenda, it should not underestimate the role social grants have played in softening the economic blow of the pandemic.
Even within our tight fiscal constraints, child hunger should be given a high priority, considering its potentially devastating impact on a child’s long-term cognitive, mental and physical development.
*Van der Berg is a professor of economics at Stellenbosch University
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