UN warns of ‘biblical’ famine due to Covid-19 pandemic

Famine is likely to worsen due to the coronavirus crisis, warns a UN agency, the World Food Program.

An additional 130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 as a result of the outbreak and its economic ramifications.

The head of the U.N. food agency warned Tuesday that, as the world is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it is also “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months if immediate action isn’t taken.

Famine in as many as three dozen countries is “a very real and dangerous possibility” due to ongoing wars and conflicts, economic crises and natural disasters, World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council during a virtual briefing.

Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, 821 million people experience chronic hunger while another 135 million people face “crisis levels of hunger or worse,” Beasley said while quoting findings from the agency’s new report on global food crises.

He said in the video briefing that WFP is providing food to nearly 100 million people on any given day, including “about 30 million people who literally depend on us to stay alive.”

Beasley, who is recovering from COVID-19, said if those 30 million people can’t be reached, “our analysis shows that 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period” — and that doesn’t include increased starvation due to the coronavirus.

“In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries, and in fact, in 10 of these countries we already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation,” he said.

Increased food insecurity in conflict zones

Yemeni children play 1
Yemeni children play by tents damaged by torrential rain at a makeshift camp for the displaced in the northern Hajjah province on Sunday.Essa Ahmed / AFP – Getty Images

According to WFP, the 10 countries with the worst food crises in 2019 were Yemen, Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria and Haiti.

Beasley said in many countries the food crisis is the result of conflict.

But he said he raised the prospect of “a hunger pandemic” because “there is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.”

The WFP chief said lockdowns and economic recession are expected to lead to major income losses for the working poor.

Children are particularly at risk as lockdowns in response to the coronavirus are keeping them out of school where they typically could receive subsidised meals.

“I must warn you that if we don’t prepare and act now — to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade — we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months,” Beasley said.

The World Food Program is in need of an additional $1.9 billion in donations to stockpile food for countries at risk plus another $350 million to support the distribution of humanitarian aid, Beasley told the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body.

While there are no famines yet, “we do not have time on our side,” Beasley said, urging world leaders to act quickly in providing aid.

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