The world could face multiple famines of biblical proportions within a few months, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

Speaking during a virtual session of the UN Security Council on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Protecting Civilians Affected by Conflict-Induced Hunger, David Beasley, the WFP executive director, pointed out that he had earlier warned leaders that in 2020, the world could experience the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

“Forgive me for speaking bluntly, but I’d like to lay out for you very clearly what the world is facing at this very moment. While dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic,” he said.

 “There are no famines yet. But 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.”

Conflicts, natural disasters, changing weather and locusts

According to the UN agency’s chief, with the wars in Syria and Yemen, deepening crises in South Sudan and, Burkina Faso and the Central Sahel region, the desert locust swarms in Africa, and more frequent natural disasters and changing weather patterns, the world is already facing a perfect storm.

“So today, with Covid-19, we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the spectre of famine a very real and dangerous possibility,” said the executive director in New York during the session held on April 21, 2020.

While 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, chronically hungry, a further 135 million people are facing crisis levels of hunger or worse.

“That means 135 million people on earth are marching towards the brink of starvation. Now, the WFP analysis shows that due to the coronavirus, an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.  That’s a total of 265 million people,” the director warned.

300,000 could starve to death daily

On any given day now, the WFP offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million. This includes about 30 million people who literally depend on the agency to stay alive.

“If we can’t reach these people with the life-saving assistance they need, our analysis shows that 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period.  This does not include the increased starvation due to Covid-19.”

According to Beasley, about three dozen countries could be looking at famine, 10 of which already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation. This is mostly due the heavy price of conflict, he added.

“There is also a real danger that more people could die from the economic impact of Covid-19 than from the virus itself.  This is why I am talking about a hunger pandemic,” Beasley said.

Added to the conflicts, lockdowns and economic recession are expected to lead to a major loss of income among the working poor. Overseas remittances will also drop sharply, while the loss of tourism receipts will damage countries that heavily rely on the sector.

 “The collapsing oil prices in lower-income countries such as South Sudan will have an impact significantly, where oil accounts for 98.8 per cent of total exports. And, of course, when donor countries’ revenues are down, how much impact will this have on life-saving foreign aid,” the WFP chief told the council.

Measures to contain hunger pandemic

In order to overcome these challenges, Beasley pointed out the importance of coming together as one united global community to defeat the disease, and to protect the most vulnerable nations and communities from its potentially devastating effects and urged the council to lead the way.

Some of the measures proposed by WFP to tackle the challenges:

  1. First and foremost, we need peace. As the Secretary-General recently said, very clearly, a global cease-fire is essential. All parties involved in conflicts should give swift and unimpeded humanitarian access to all vulnerable communities, so they can get the assistance to them that they need, regardless of who they are or where they are.
  2. The flow of humanitarian goods and commercial trade to continue across borders, “because they are the lifeline of global food systems as well as the global economy. Supply chains have to keep moving, if we are going to overcome this pandemic and get food from where it is produced to where it is needed. It also means resisting the temptation to introduce export bans or import subsidies, which can lead to price hikes and almost always backfire“.
  3. A coordinated action to support life-saving humanitarian assistance. WFP is implementing plans to pre-position three months’ worth of food and cash to serve country operations identified as priorities.

“We are asking donors to accelerate the $1.9 billion in funding that has already been pledged, so that we can build stockpiles and create these life-saving buffers. This will protect the most vulnerable from the effects of supply chain disruptions, commodity shortages, economic damage and lockdowns. Also required is a further $350 million to set up a network of logistics hubs and transport systems to keep humanitarian supply chains moving around the world.

“They will also provide field hospitals and medical evacuations to the frontline humanitarian and health workers, as needed and strategically,” added the WFP chief.

“The actions we take will determine our success, or failure, in building sustainable food systems as the basis of stable and peaceful societies. The truth is, we do not have time on our side, so let’s act wisely – and let’s act fast.”



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