By Robin Gomes
The chief of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is calling on the international community to continue supporting actions to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from pushing millions into famine.
270 million at risk
“This fight is far, far, far from over — the 270 million people marching towards the brink of starvation need our help today more than ever,” WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council on 17 September.
While acknowledging the ‘extraordinary’ response of governments, donors and international financial institutions to the emergency caused by the virus and its socio-economic consequences, Beasley warned that “we are not out of the woods, yet.”
In 2020, WFP is aiming to provide lifesaving food assistance to 138 million hungry people around the world — 85 million of these have already been reached in the first six months of the year.
Worst disaster scenarios
While the Security Council’s session discussed conflict-related hunger amid the Covid-19 pandemic, attention was drawn to countries considered most at risk of sliding further into hunger and starvation: Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, South Sudan, and Burkina Faso.
In Beasley’s words, Yemen remains the world’s ‘worst human disaster’. War, a collapsed economy, currency devaluation, crippling food prices and the destruction of public infrastructure mean 20 million people are already in crisis, and a further 3 million may now face starvation due to the virus.
In the DRC, the upsurge in violence, coupled with COVID-19, has sent the number of people in crisis level of food insecurity sky-rocketing from 15.2 million people to nearly 22 million.
In Nigeria, 80 percent of families experiencing reduced incomes and some 4.3 million people in the northeast are facing food insecurity.
In South Sudan, even before the pandemic, 6.5 million people were expected to face severe food insecurity at the height of the lean season. The virus could put another 1.6 million people at risk of starvation in urban areas.
The number of people facing crisis levels of hunger in Burkina Faso has tripled to 3.3 million.
World stands by
Beasly lamented that the “world stands by until it is too late, while hunger kills, stokes community tensions, fuels conflict and instability, and forces families from their homes.”
To feed the 30 million people who rely completely on WFP’s assistance to survive, the organization needs US$ 4.9 billion a year. As Beasley put it, “We must act and we must act before the dam bursts.”
“Without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe,” he added.
Humanity’s greatest crisis
The WFP chief’s call for support was also extended to the world’s over 2,000 billionaires, whose combined net worth is US$ 8 trillion.
“Humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes. It’s time for those who have the most to step up, to help those who have the least in this extraordinary time in world history,” Beasley said.
He also called for balancing measures to curb the virus by keeping supply chains and trade moving across borders. In this regard, he expressed concern over COVID-19 shutdowns worsening other problems, such as disruptions to vaccinations for other illnesses. Many more people, he said, could die from the broader economic and social consequences of Covid-19 than from the virus itself. (Source: WFP)