The world is at risk of widespread famines “of biblical proportions” caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN has warned.
More than 30 countries in the developing world could experience widespread famine, and in 10 of those countries there are already more than 1 million people on the brink of starvation, said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme.
“We are not talking about people going to bed hungry,” he told the Guardian in an interview. “We are talking about extreme conditions, emergency status – people literally marching to the brink of starvation. If we don’t get food to people, people will die.”
According to the UNWFP Director Beasley, vast food shortages will occur due to factors like conflict, economic recession, a decline in aid and a collapse in oil prices.
“While dealing with a Covid-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic,” David Beasley told the UN’s security council.
“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 agency identified 55 countries, with ten being singled as mostly at risk of a ‘hunger pandemic’. The ten countries include Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti.
According to the UN Agency, these countries apart from being at risk of entering famine have fragile healthcare systems which make them unable to cope with the impact of the virus.
“These countries may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the coronavirus to have them die from hunger,” the report said.
“Lockdowns and economic recession are expected to lead to a major loss of income among the working poor,” Beasley said. Overseas remittances will also drop sharply, affecting countries such as Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia, for example.
“The loss of tourism receipts will damage countries such as Ethiopia (and) the collapsing oil prices in lower-income countries like South Sudan will have an impact significantly,” he added.
He appealed to UN member states to act now, telling them: “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.
“The truth is, we do not have time on our side, so let’s act wisely — and let’s act fast,” he added. “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.”