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UN food agency chief: World could see famines of "biblical proportions" within months

Food supply fears rise as processing plants close
Food supply fears rise as virus forces processing plants to close 02:11

David Beasley, director of the United Nations World Food Program, warned Tuesday that the world is on "the brink of a hunger pandemic" as it grapples with the global coronavirus crisis. He said that without action, the world could face "multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months."

We are already facing "a perfect storm" due to wars like those in Syria and Yemen and more frequent natural disasters, among other factors, he said.

"It is critical we come together as one united global community to defeat this disease, and protect the most vulnerable nations and communities from its potentially devastating effects," Beasley told the U.N. Security Council.

The World Food Program, which works to fight hunger worldwide, serves nearly 100 million people a day, including 30 million who depend on the organization to stay alive, according to Beasley. He said that every night, 821 million people go to bed hungry.

Some 135 million people are acutely food-insecure and facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, according to a report published this week called the 2020 Global Report on Food Crisis. Now, the coronavirus could push an additional 130 million people "to the brink of starvation" by the end of the year, said Beasley.

"In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries, and in fact, in 10 of these countries we already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation," Beasley said.

He said there's "a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself."

Employees of the World Food Program wearing protective masks distribute relief items to displaced Yemenis amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, in the capital Sanaa on April 18, 2020. Getty

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted the world's poor. International lockdowns have put millions of people out of work, many of whom support families abroad. According to Beasley, overseas remittance, the transfer of money from a foreign worker to their family in another country, is expected to drop sharply — "hurting countries such as Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia just a name a couple," he said.

Safety measures have knocked out economies that rely on service industries. According to Beasley, the loss of tourism will cause significant damage to countries such as Ethiopia, where it accounts for 47% of total exports. Collapsing oil prices have dealt a crucial blow to low-income countries like South Sudan, where oil makes up 98.8% of total exports.

Beasley urged countries to make peace in this unprecedented moment, and echoed a call from the UN secretary-general for a global ceasefire so humanitarian aid can be delivered to those in acute need.

"We need all parties involved in conflicts to give us swift and unimpeded humanitarian access to all vulnerable communities, so they can get the assistance to them that they need, regardless of who they are or where they are," he said.

"Supply chains have to keep moving if we are going to overcome this pandemic and get food from where it is produced to where it is needed."

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