UNITED NATIONS -- 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.
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council that even before COVID-19 became an issue, he was telling world leaders that “2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” That’s because of wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, locust swarms in Africa, frequent natural disasters and economic crises including in Lebanon, Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia, he said.
Beasley said today 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, a further 135 million people are facing “crisis levels of hunger or worse,” and a new World Food Program analysis shows that as a result of COVID-19 an additional 130 million people “could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”
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.
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.
He pointed to a sharp drop in overseas remittances that will hurt countries such as Haiti, Nepal and Somalia; a loss of tourism revenue which, for example, will damage Ethiopia where it accounts for 47 percent of total exports; and the collapse of oil prices which will have a significant impact in lower-income countries like South Sudan where oil accounts for almost 99 percent of total exports.
As the U.N.’s logistics backbone, Beasley said WFP has played a major role in tackling COVID-19 by delivering millions of pieces of protective equipment, testing kits and face masks to 78 countries on behalf of the World Health Organization and by running humanitarian air services to get doctors, nurses and humanitarian staff into countries that need help.
He urged greater humanitarian access, coordinated action to deliver aid, an end to trade disruptions, and accelerated and increased funding including $350 million to set up a network of logistics hubs and transport systems to keep supply chains running worldwide.
“The truth is, we do not have time on our side, so let’s act wisely — and let’s act fast," Beasley said. “I do believe that with our expertise and partnerships, we can bring together the teams and the programs necessary to make certain the COVID-19 pandemic does not become a humanitarian and food crisis catastrophe."