In Brief

Coronavirus pandemic threatens ‘biblical famine’

UN expert says the crisis is causing a ‘hunger pandemic’

The coronavirus could lead to a famine “of biblical proportions,” the chief of the UN’s food relief agency has warned.

“We are not talking about people going to bed hungry,” David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, told The Guardian

“We are talking about extreme conditions, emergency status – people literally marching to the brink of starvation. If we don’t get food to people, people will die.”

More than 30 countries in the developing world could experience the famine, he said, and in one third of those countries there are already more than one million people on the brink of starvation.

The fourth annual Global Report on Food Crises - compiled by the World Food Programme - focusses attention on Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti.

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“This is truly more than just a pandemic – it is creating a hunger pandemic,” said Beasley at the UN security council yesterday. “This is a humanitarian and food catastrophe.”

He urged world leaders to bring forward about $2bn (£1.6bn) of aid that has been pledged, so it can be sent to the frontline as swiftly as possible.

He had already been warning that 2020 would be a disastrous year even before the Covid-19 crisis, with conflict and natural disaster threatening food systems. 

“Now, my goodness, this is a perfect storm,” he said. “We are looking at widespread famines of biblical proportions.”

He said disaster can be averted but it will cost a lot of money to stop it. Referring to last year’s World Food Programme spending of $7.5bn (£6bn), he said: “I could easily see that need [for budget] doubling.”

A report has found that at least 265 million people are being pushed to the brink of starvation by the coronavirus pandemic. This is twice the number under threat before the crisis.

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