Pandemic threatens ‘biblical famines’, warns UN food programme

The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to 'biblical famines' and almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Tuesday (21 April) as it released a new report on food crises around the world. EPA-EFE/YAHYA ARHAB

The COVID-19 pandemic could lead to ‘biblical famines’ and almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Tuesday (21 April) as it released a new report on food crises around the world.

Addressing the UN Security Council during a video conference on Tuesday (21 April), WFP head David Beasley said the world had to “act wisely and act fast”.

“We could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months,” he said.

The annual Global Report on Food Crises, which is based on data from 2019, estimates that 265 million people in low and middle-income countries will be in acute food insecurity by the end of 2020 unless swift action is taken

South Sudan had 61% of its population in a state of food crisis (or worse) in 2019. Six other countries also had at least 35% of their populations in a state of food crisis: Sudan, Yemen, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Haiti.

Food shortages are set to be intensified by the lockdown measures and restrictions on trade flows imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic.

Most African countries have imposed lockdowns and curfews comparable to those in Europe, prompting fears that harvests will not be fully collected and intensifying the prospect of food shortages. Meanwhile, a locust pandemic has also decimated crop production across much of East Africa.

“COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said WFP’s Senior Economist, Arif Husain.

“It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like COVID-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe,” said Husain.

While the WFP is facing a dramatic increase in the need for its services, like other UN agencies, it is also facing financial pressure following funding cuts by the United States and other donor governments. Earlier this month, the WFP announced that it would be halving its aid programme in Yemen, citing funding shortages.

A recently established UN Supply Chain Task Force coordinated by the World Health Organisation and WFP to facilitate global COVID-19 support for the countries most in need is reliant on donors, including the EU, providing $350 million in additional funds.

Last week, EU Foreign Affairs chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted that the EU was “steadfast supporter” of the WFP and its “main contributor”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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