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UN warns of global hunger pandemic thanks to coronavirus

The number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to 265 million due to the economic fallout of COVID-19, the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

The coronavirus crisis will push more than a quarter of a billion people to the brink of starvation unless swift action is taken to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, the UN and other experts have warned.

About 265 million people around the world are forecast to be facing acute food insecurity by the end of this year, a doubling of the 130 million estimated to suffer severe food shortages last year. “Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said Dr Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Programme.

“It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like Covid-19 – to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe.”

Global hunger could become the next big impact of the pandemic, warns the Global Report on Food Crises, by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Food Programme and 14 other organisations, published on Tuesday. Some of the poorest countries may face the choice of trying to save people stricken by the virus only for them to fall prey to hunger.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said the report must be a call to action. “The upheaval that has been set in motion by the Covid-19 pandemic may push even more families and communities into deeper distress,” he wrote in the foreword.

“At this time of immense global challenges, from conflicts to climate shocks to economic instability, we must redouble our efforts to defeat hunger and malnutrition. We have the tools and the knowhow. What we need is political will and sustained commitment by leaders and nations.”

The report, which will be presented to the UN security council on Tuesday afternoon, bolsters warnings that the world could face a repeat of the 2007-08 food price rises that sparked widespread political upheaval, the impacts of which are still being felt across the Middle East and from Asia to Latin America.

Food experts are worried that donor nations have barely begun to deliver the funding needed urgently on the ground to set up networks to deliver humanitarian relief to the worst-hit areas, deliveries which need to be achieved by air as ground transport is obstructed or halted over large areas.

The World Food Programme estimates that $350m (£280m) will be needed immediately, but only about a quarter of the sum has yet been forthcoming.

Source: various agencies

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