Foreign Desk Report
NEW YORK: About 25 countries are set to face devastating levels of hunger in coming months, along with the low and middle income countries because of the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic, according to a joint report compiled by two Rom-based UN agencies the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The report was published 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”, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said. “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.”
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 inter-communal fighting makes humanitarian access tough or impossible.
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.