Unless swift action is taken, the COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.
The warning was sounded today as the WFP and other partners released a new report on food crises around the world in Rome, Italy.
The UN food agency pushed the number of people to suffer to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020.
The number of people facing acute food insecurity stands to rise to 265 million in 2020, up by 130 million from the 135 million in 2019. This is as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, according to a WFP projection.
The estimate was announced alongside the release of the Global Report on Food Crises, produced by WFP and 15 other humanitarian and development partners.
WFP’s Senior Economist, Mr Arif Husain said COVID-19 is a possible disaster to several people already suffering from poverty.
“COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. 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 takes one more shock – like COVID-19 to push them over the edge,” he said.
Following the projection, it is vital that food assistance programmes be maintained, including WFP’s own programmes which offer a lifeline to almost 100 million vulnerable people globally.
Key data obtained from the WFP’s projection indicates that some 265 million people in low and middle income countries will be in acute food insecurity by the end of 2020 unless immediate action is taken.
According to the Global Report on Food Crises, 77 million people suffering acute food insecurity in 2019 were in countries affected by conflict, 34 million people were affected by climate change while 24 million people were affected by economic crises.
Ten countries globally including Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, the Sudan, Nigeria and Haiti constituted the worst food crises in 2019.
South Sudan had 61 percent of its population in a state of food crisis last year while six other countries including Sudan, Yemen, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Syria Arab Republic and Haiti also had at least 35 percent of their populations in a state of food crisis.
The Global Report on Food Crises added that these 10 countries accounted for 66 percent of the population in crisis or worse or 88 million people.
It is against this backdrop that Mr Husain called for combined efforts to mitigate the effects of the problem to save lives.
“We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe,” he warned.