Hunger threatens to soar to devastating levels in 25 countries in the coming months due to the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are warning.
The greatest concentration of need is in Africa, but countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia – including middle-income nations – are also being ravaged by crippling levels of food insecurity.
The two Rome-based UN agencies sounded the alarm in a joint report published Friday as the WFP announced that it is scaling up food assistance to an unprecedented 138 million people who face desperate levels of hunger as COVID-19 tightens its grip on some the world’s most fragile countries.
The cost of the WFP’s response is estimated at $4.9 billion – representing nearly half the updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, launched this week – with an additional $500 million special provision to prevent famine in countries most at risk.
“Three months ago at the UN Security Council, I told world leaders that we ran the risk of a famine of biblical proportions”, said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
“Today, our latest data tell us that, since then, millions of the world’s very poorest families have been forced even closer to the abyss”, Mr. Beasley said.
“Livelihoods are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate and now their lives are in imminent danger from starvation”, he said.
“Make no mistake – if we do not act now to end this pandemic of human suffering, many people will die.”
25 mostly African ‘hotspots’
Most of the 25 “hotspots” named in the report stretch from West Africa and across the Sahel to East Africa, including the Sahel, as well Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
It also identifies, in the Middle East, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen; in Asia, Bangladesh; and in Latin America and the Caribbean, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Citing some examples, it says that COVID-19 is compounding a raft of existing problems in South Sudan, making the prospect of famine loom ever larger in areas where intercommunal fighting makes humanitarian access tough or impossible.
Middle East, Latin America
In the Middle East, the pandemic is exacerbating Lebanon’s worst-ever economic crisis, where food insecurity is growing fast not only among citizens, but also 1.5 million Syrians and other refugees.
Hardest hit in Latin America are more than five million Venezuelan migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in neighbouring countries, the report says, adding that worsening economic conditions in host countries could well make matters worse.
According to WFP estimates, the number of people living in acute food insecurity in countries affected by conflict, disasters or economic crises could jump from 149 million before the pandemic took hold to 270 million by year’s end if assistance is not provided urgently.