The UN food relief agency has warned that the world is on the brink of a "hunger pandemic" and could face multiple famines of biblical proportions within few months if nations don't act now to avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade due to COVID-19, which continues to spread unabated.
The novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last, has so far infected over 2,565,290 people and claimed more than 177,770 lives.
"While dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic," David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said at a virtual session of the UN Security Council on the 'Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Protecting Civilians Affected by Conflict-Induced Hunger' on Tuesday.
"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," he said.
Beasley said with COVID-19, the world not only faces 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, he noted.
Beasley said 821 million people go to bed chronically hungry every night all over the world. A further 135 million people are facing crisis levels of hunger or worse.
"But now the World Food Programme analysis shows that due to 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," he said.
Noting that the global spread of COVID-19 this year has sparked "the worst humanitarian crisis since World War-II", Beasley pointed to deepening crises, more frequent natural disasters and changing weather patterns, saying, "We’re already facing a perfect storm."
WFP currently offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people -- up from about 80 million just a few years ago.
"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 increase of starvation due to COVID-19," Beasley said.
He called on the Security Council to "act now" and "lead the way", saying the world needs peace first and foremost to deal with the challenges.
Beasley asked that all involved in the fighting provide "swift and unimpeded" humanitarian access to vulnerable communities and for coordinated action to support life-saving assistance, along with USD 350 million in new funding, to set up a network of logistics hubs to keep worldwide humanitarian supply chains moving.
He stressed, "We do not have time on our side, so let’s act wisely – and let’s act fast."
Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Qu Dongyu, in the conference highlighted how the newly released 2020 Global Report on Food Crises report clearly links conflict and rising levels of acute food insecurity.
Against the backdrop of 135 million people in 55 countries experiencing acute food insecurity in 2019, nearly 60 per cent of whom lived in conflict or instability, Qu cited Yemen as the nation that is facing the world's worst food and malnutrition crisis this year.
The number of acutely food-insecure people in Yemen is "expected to exceed 17 million", he said.
The FAO chief also drew a connection between livelihood interventions and peace processes, spelling out that "coherent actions are needed among humanitarian, development and peace actors to address the root causes of acute food insecurity".
Stressing that "the forecasts for food security in 2020 look bleak", he underscored the importance of early warning and quick action to pre-empt food insecurity caused by conflicts.
While conflicts, extreme weather, desert locusts, economic shocks and now COVID-19, are likely to "push more people into acute food insecurity", Qu said there is a ray of hope and "by closely monitoring the evolution of these shocks, we can rapidly intervene to mitigate their impacts"”
Noting that widespread conflict and instability lead to food insecurity and reducing or preventing conflict reduces and prevents hunger, the FAO chief said, "We have mobilised our organizations in ways not seen since the foundation of the UN."