UN warns of global famines of ‘biblical proportions’

UN warns of global famines of 'biblical proportions'
Employees of WFP wearing protective masks distribute relief items to displaced Yemenis amid the coronavirus pandemic. Source: AFP
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Daily US Times: The United Nations has warned that the world is facing multiple famines of “biblical proportions” in just a matter of months, adding that the coronavirus pandemic will push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.

In a stark address on Tuesday, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) said, famines could take hold in “about three dozen countries” in a worst-case scenario. He said, ten of those countries already have more than 1 million people on the verge of starvation.

He cited a decline in aid, an economic recession, conflict, and a collapse in oil prices as factors likely to lead to vast food shortages, and urged swift action to avert disaster.

David Beasley told the UN’s security council, ”While dealing with a Covid-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic. 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 had already warned that this year would be a devastating year for numerous countries ravaged by poverty or war, with 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse. The organization’s updated projections nearly double that number.

When added to the 821 million people already chronically hungry, that number would push more than 1 billion people into dire situations.

In its latest annual report, released this week, WFP identified 55 countries most at risk of being plunged into famine, warning that their fragile healthcare systems will be unable to cope with the impact of the virus.

The report said: “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.”

Ten countries were singled out as particularly at-risk, after housing the worst food crises last year; Yemen, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, Venezuela, South Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, and Haiti.

Most of those countries have so far been spared the worst of the current coronavirus pandemic, but as the countries’ healthcare institutions are weak, which means even relatively small outbreaks could be devastating.

More than 2.5 million cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed globally so far.

‘We do not have time on our side’

The pandemic will hit hard in many countries. Overseas remittances will also drop sharply, affecting countries such as Nepal, Haiti and Somalia, for example.

Mr Beasley said: “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 urged UN member states to act now, saying: “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.

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