The threat of famine is now on the horizon for millions of people. This is a lethal but a very underreported side effect of COVID-19, which affects countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Central and Latin America. The UN National food program and its partners has mobilized relief to areas that need it most.
Steve Taravella, the senior spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme explains: “I’d like to give folks a snapshot of what’s happening around the world and what is being done to address global hunger. Us at the WFP (World Food Programme) are the hunger relief arm of the United Nations. We feed about 100 million people every year. We don’t operate in the United States, we go to where the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations live with a staff of 19,000 people. When there is conflict, like when roads are bombed and food cannot reach people, we step in. Also, we provide school meals to students in about fifty countries and for some students, that is the only meal they eat all day. We do a variety of things, such as help communities be prepared for rough weather and help small farmers find buyers for their produce. We do more than just emergency response. To accomplish this, we have over 5,000 trucks, 20 cargo ships and 100 planes on the move every day.”
We are facing the three Cs: conflict, climate and COVID.
Annabel Symington, head of communications for the World Food Programme in Yemen, adds:
“As you may have heard, there is a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It is often called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and rightfully so. Conflict is the main driver of the crisis in Yemen. War has destroyed agricultural land, government services and has left the health department on its knees. About 4 million people have been displaced out of its population of 30 million. They have been displaced multiple times as frontlines have moved. The economy is at a near breaking point. Food prices are 140 times higher than prewar times. Currency is volatile with two rival currencies. Fuel cost has gone up and is scarce. On top of that, COVID happened, and it is very difficult to get real numbers, as testing capacity is very limited. They had a brief lockdown, but it was lifted very quickly. What we are hearing from people is they will starve if they stay at home. We now know the hunger situation has hit a new peak. We are seeing the worse numbers we have seen. New data from WFP and other UN agencies report there are 50,000 people living in famine like conditions. Five million are at severe risk of falling into famine. Almost half of all children are malnourished, and they will not be able to reach their full potential. The impact will be felt for generations to come. Our operation in Yemen is the largest in the world. WFP was there prewar and during the war. We have two mandates: changing and saving lives. We have delivered emergency food assistance such as flour, sugar, and salt to over twelve million people. We are looking to scale up our level of support as we have in the past.”
Elio Rujano, communications officer for the World Food Programme’s regional bureau in Central America and the Caribbean, adds: “The face of hunger in Central America has changed. In the past we focused mainly on rural communities but now due to COVID we are also serving urban communities as well. Hunger, back in 2018 was at about 2.2 million people and today it is 8 million. That gives an idea of the situation. What we are doing to help is working with communities and helping them become resilient to climate change, that is their biggest threat besides COVID. We are helping them learn new techniques and find new livelihoods such as bee keeping. We help with money so they can buy food, but also help families learn about nutrition. We are planning 1.6 million to help central America in 2021, we are helping 6 million in the next six months.”
Parul Sachdeva, Country Advisor in India for Give2Asia adds: “Even before the pandemic, India accounted for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity, the highest for any country. Nearly one in three Indian people face moderate or severe food insecurity. The year 2020 marked a severe increase in food insecurity, as the lockdown forced millions of migrant workers to leave cities. When restrictions were eased, many laborers returned to only find limited employment opportunities.”
Although the effects of COVID-19 have been disastrous in the US there are other countries facing many harsher conditions, especially in developing countries where there is unrest.