New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof Shares Thoughts on Pandemic, Global Hunger

By Bethany Ivie

August 7, 2020

Nicholas Kristof is deeply worried about the pandemic. And not just the one you’re thinking of. The two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist for The New York Times fears we’re underestimating the effects the novel coronavirus will have on developing and poorer nations for generations to come. And that we’ll be too late to do anything about it.

During his #HeiferTogether discussion with Heifer CEO Pierre Ferrari on May 12, Kristof discussed the unseen effects of COVID-19 on developing nations of the world.

  • Today, according to the World Food Programme, 821 million people around the world go hungry each day. The COVID-19 pandemic will add an estimated 130 million additional people to this tally. Kristof said, “While the direct medical affects, maybe, won’t be as devastating as appeared in the developing world, I think that there’s great reason to fear that the secondary effects of hunger, illiteracy will be enormous. In the pandemic of hunger, we’re already seeing as economies go down, as people lose access to markets to transportation. I think that’s what I fear the most. I would love to see a great emphasis globally on addressing this hunger pandemic.”
    Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
  • Continued school closures, Kristoff fears, will further compound the crisis. “Kids are not only missing school, they’re missing school feeding programs, and that will have an impact on their nutrition. It means they won’t get their deworming, which happens typically in school programs. If this lasts two months, it’s probably manageable. If it lasts a long time, there will be a real impact on nutrition, on healthcare, on maternal mortality, on girls’ education, in particular,” said Kristof.
  • Malnutrition early in life has irreversible effects on the mental and physical development of young children. With millions of kids unable to access the nutrition that schools provide, there’s a huge danger facing entire generations of the future. “Some young children won’t get adequate nutrition as their brains develop. One of the things we’ve learned over the last 20 years is that when the brain is developing, especially, in the first 1,000 days or so, and there is not adequate nutrition, there is a real loss of cognitive bandwidth that remains for the rest of one’s life. And I worry a lot about that,” said Kristof.
  • Most importantly, though? Kristof noted that these looming humanitarian crises aren’t inevitable. We can and should take action. He said, “I think that we in the rich world need to appreciate that what poor countries need most desperately isn’t ventilators, it’s not ICU beds, it’s efforts to address these nutritional and educational needs. And that’s also something that we know how to do. It’s something that’s proven, we can save these lives, we CAN prevent this crisis, but it’s got to be on the agenda.”
  • The United States has a vital role to play in preventing this crisis, but it is yet unclear if we’ll rise to the challenge. “There is, as you know, something of a skepticism around foreign aid in America and that we are so inwardly focused that we won’t respond … I fear that, worldwide, we’re going to miss the boat on this hunger pandemic and there will be a lot of people who will pay the price,” said Kristof.

Watch the full interview with Nicholas Kristof and all of our #HeiferTogether chats on the series site. Past speakers include food critic Ruth Reichl, activist and farmer Karen Washington, Soul Fire Farm cofounder Leah Penniman and more.