WFP chief warns of new global famine

Diplomatic Correspondent

19 September, 2020 12:00 AM printer

The global hunger crisis caused by conflict and now compounded by COVID-19 is moving into a dangerous phase, the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

The WFP boss stressed the need for resources, without which, he said a wave of famine could sweep the globe, overwhelming nations already weakened by years of instability.

“This fight…is far, far, far from over,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said, briefing the Security Council during a virtual debate on conflict-induced hunger on Thursday, according to a UN report.  

Beasley recalled his April briefing to the 15-member Council, where he warned that the world was on the verge of a hunger pandemic. Heeding the warning, donors and countries – large and small – took extraordinary measures to save people’s lives, spending $17 trillion in fiscal stimulus packages.  

WFP, too, is going all out to reach 138 million people this year, the biggest scale-up in the agency’s history, he said, noting that 85 million people have been reached so far. However, challenges remain.

“We’re doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe,” said the WFP Executive Director.

Recalling Security Council resolution 2417 (2018) that called for effective early warning systems, Mr Beasley said: “I’m here to sound that alarm ... the threat of famine is looming yet again.”

Acknowledging that the governments’ reserves are depleting, he said, adding that 2021 will be a make or break year.

“I urge you to not walk away from your commitment to humanitarian assistance. Do not turn your backs on the world’s hunger.”   

He underscored the critical importance of balancing sensible measures to contain COVID-19 with others to keep borders open and trade flows moving. It is vital to guard against unintended consequences that can hit the poorest the hardest.

Describing conditions in Africa as “a matter of life and death”, he cited calculations by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that for every COVID-19 death prevented, 80 children may die from a lack of routine vaccination.

An upsurge in violence, combined with the effects of COVID in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has sent the 15.5 million people already facing crisis levels of food insecurity skyrocketing to 22 million. In northeast Nigeria, meanwhile, 4.3 million people are food insecure, an increase of 600,000.

In Yemen, 20 million people are in crisis, with another 3 million potentially facing starvation due to coronavirus.

“We’ll be forced to cut rations for the remaining 4.4 million by December if resources do not increase,” stressed Mr Beasley.

“The world needs to open up its eyes to the Yemeni people before famine takes hold.”

There are no more excuses for failing to act swiftly and decisively, he said.

While peace agreements like that in South Sudan offer hope, it is time for the private sector to step up. 

There are 2,000 billionaires in the world with a collective net worth of $8 trillion and he called them off the side-lines. WFP needs $4.9 billion for one year to keep 30 million people from dying.  “Humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes.”

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said the human and economic cost of conflict is astronomical: an estimated 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is in the 10 most affected countries.