Lockdown strategy has placed the poorest of the poor, especially children, at risk of starvation

New Life Baptist Church in Richmond Wandera's home town of Namugongo, Uganda has been distributing food during the pandemic.(Photo: Compassion UK/Richmond Wandera)

As we observe World Hunger Day today and the world slowly starts to relax some lockdown measures, my thoughts turn to the devastating impact the pandemic has had on those already living in poverty, particularly in my home country of Uganda.

What I have seen is that the people who are suffering the most are the poorest of the poor and the children who are at home without food. Many of our children in Uganda go to school, so the idea of 'stay home' has been a massive challenge to parents who have many mouths to feed. That's creating some very, very serious consequences. We are experiencing cases of starvation and near death.

The global shutdown has placed many children and their families at risk of starving in their own homes. The UN estimates that 265 million people across the world are on the brink of starvation, while UNU-WIDER research shows an expected increase of half a billion people living in poverty because of the pandemic.

As a former sponsored child who knows what it is to go hungry, I now serve on the Board of Compassion UK, an international Christian child development charity that continues to work through 8,000 local church partners across the world to extend their care further in those communities hardest hit by coronavirus and in urgent need of hygiene, food and housing security. This includes children and families not currently registered in the Compassion programme.

Social distancing rules are known as a "luxury of the West" in Uganda, which implemented strict measures early on to combat the virus. The communities in the country, like many other developing nations, live very closely together. There are also serious potential long-term impacts on food production - with farmers reliant on workers, rather than machinery, currently unable to cultivate their crops - and for employees who have lost their livelihoods.

When you think about social distancing from that perspective, it's just an idea that falls apart. Very few companies have invested in internet access or the ability to work from home so it's very complicated. Many people actually lose their jobs in the process of the company shutting down – there is no guarantee people will have work after this quarantine period is over.

Despite the huge challenges, many local churches and volunteers are offering hope to their communities and providing for the most vulnerable children by welcoming them into their homes.

We've been able to find homes for many of the children and the youth who were living in homes where the parents (or the single parent) knew that if those kids stayed there, they were going to starve because there is no work, there's no more income coming in.

The local church that I pastor in Namugongo has done its best to offer a lifeline for 40 families with the provision of food parcels, along with hand sanitisers to help keep the disease at bay, helping those that are starving in a nearby slum area because of the stringent lockdown guidelines.

It's been amazing to see the church rise up here in Uganda, but also around the world. We need to continue to pray for wisdom for our leaders to implement solutions that take into account the varying needs of each country's population.

Across 25 countries Compassion's church partners know, love and protect 108,000 of the most vulnerable children in their local communities every day. This is made possible through the generous support of those sponsoring children.

Since Covid-19 hit, Compassion's focus remains on caring for those children, but when survival is on the line, that means providing additional support to the community around them. During crisis and disaster situations, helping communities and caregivers is often the most critical and immediate way to help children and bring hope to their situation.

Compassion UK is encouraging supporters and the public to donate to the Covid-19 Emergency Appeal. To find out more go to www.compassionuk.org/covid

Richmond Wandera is founder of the Pastors Discipleship Network, which trains and equips pastors with vital ministry skills, helping more than 6,000 pastors across East Africa in the last decade. He also serves on the Compassion UK Board of Trustees and is a former sponsored child.