Story at a glance

  • The World Food Programme said the world could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.
  • The global health crisis could double to 265 million people by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19.
  • About three dozen countries are considered to be at risk.

The United Nations (UN) is warning that the world is at risk of widespread famines “of biblical proportions” due the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide since the virus emerged late last year

The executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) addressed the UN Security Council during a video conference Tuesday, saying famines could break out in more than three dozen countries in the developing world in a worst-case scenario. Ten of those countries already have more than 1 million people on the brink of starvation. 


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“While dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic,” David Beasley told the 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.”

“There are no famines yet,” Beasley said. “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 WFP had already estimated that 135 million people would face crisis levels of hunger or worse in 2020. But with COVID-19, an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of the year. 


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He said conflict, economic recession, a drop in aid and collapse in oil prices are likely to contribute to widespread food shortages. Beasley urged the UN security council to bring forward $2 billion of aid that has been pledged, so it can get to the frontline as quickly as possible.

“The truth is, we do not have time on our side, so let’s act wisely — and let’s act fast,” Beasley said. “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.”

Ten countries were particularly at risk due to the housing and food crises last year: Yemen, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti. 


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Published on Apr 22, 2020