In a call for international cooperation, the executive director of WFP warned that more people could die from the economic fallout of the pandemic than from the virus itself.
The executive director of UN food relief agency the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley warned the UN Security Council (UNSC) on April 21 that famines of “biblical proportion” are “looming.”
Beasley urged the UNSC to “act fast” and did not mince his words. “Forgive me for speaking bluntly,” the WFP director said.
“I’d like to lay out for you very clearly what the world is facing at this very moment. At the same time while dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic,” he emphasized.
The WFP director explained that the threat of famine is not new. “I want to stress that we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.
“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,” Beasley warned.
Explaining the severity of the global crisis to the UNSC, Beasley cited the swarm of locusts destroying crops in Africa, conflict in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, and the crises in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as causes for concern.
The WFP chief also underlined the risks posed by the swarm of locusts destroying crops in Africa and natural disasters caused by climate change. “We’re already facing a perfect storm,” he said.
Quoting alarming statistics, Beasley used shock tactics to urge the UNSC to take action. “821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, he told the council. “There are a further 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse.”
However, with the economic shock from the novel coronavirus pandemic, “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,” the WFP director told the UNSC.
“The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are most worrisome for communities in countries across Africa as well as the Middle East, because the virus threatens further damage to the lives and livelihoods of people already put at risk by conflict,” Beasley told the Security Council.
A call to action
In a call for international cooperation, Beasley warned that more people could die from the economic fallout of the pandemic than from the virus itself.
“It is critical we come together as one united global community to defeat this disease, and protect the most vulnerable nations and communities from its potentially devastating effects,” he stressed.
Beasley outlined to the UNSC how the WFP has been, and will continue to combatting the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations through initiatives to alleviate hunger and poverty.
He called on the parties present to support UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire, emphasizing the need to facilitate access to war zones and conflict-scarred regions for humanitarian aid.
The WFP director also asked the UNSC members to support governments in developing countries by keeping trade and exports going, where possible. In order to support vulnerable populations, economies need to keep running.
“WFP is working hand in glove with governments to build and strengthen national safety nets. This is critical right now to ensure fair access to assistance and help maintain peace and prevent rising tensions among communities,” he explained.
Beasley’s third request to the UNSC was a financial one.
“We are asking donors to accelerate the (US) $1.9 billion in funding that has already been pledged,” he explained.
The IGO needs the funding to “build stockpiles and create these life-saving buffers, and protect the most vulnerable from the effects of supply chain disruptions, commodity shortages, economic damage and lockdowns.”
A further $350 million is needed “to set up a network of logistics hubs and transport systems to keep humanitarian supply chains moving around the world,” he explained.
The funding would “also provide field hospitals and medical evacuations to the frontline humanitarian and health workers, as needed and strategically.”
A streamlined approach
The WFP director was clear that, though there is currently no serious global food shortage, it is only a matter of time.
“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,” Beasley warned the Security Council.
The WFP warnings come after a report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could kill up to 3.3 million people in Africa, if left unchecked.
The report analyzed the health ramifications of the pandemic and put the spotlight on the economic impact, which, the report warned, could be lasting.
“The impact on African economies could be the slowing of growth to 1.8 per cent in the best case scenario or a contraction of 2.6 per cent in the worst case,” the commission warned.
The UN commission reported that the economic push-back from the pandemic could throw 27 million people into poverty.
To compile the report, researchers from Imperial College London used mathematical modeling techniques to provide worst and best case scenarios, allowing for collaborative planning and preventative measures.
Like the WFP, the UN Economic Commission called for a streamlined, joint effort to face the hunger crisis.
“To protect and build towards our shared prosperity at least $100 billion is needed to immediately resource a health and social safety net response.”