The number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to 265 million due to the economic fallout of COVID-19, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The impact of lost tourism revenues, falling remittances and travel and other restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic is expected to leave about 130 million more people acutely hungry this year, in addition to 135 million already in that category, the WFP said in a new report on Tuesday.
“COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said Arif Husain, chief economist and director of research, assessment and monitoring at the WFP. “We all need to come together to deal with this because if we don’t the cost will be too high – the global cost will be too high: many lost lives and many, many more lost livelihoods,” he told reporters at a virtual briefing in Geneva. Husain said it was critical to act quickly to prevent people already living hand-to-mouth from selling their assets as it could take them years to become self-reliant again.
In some cases, such as when farmers sell their ploughs or oxen, it could have knock-on effects for food production for years to come, he added. “These were the people we were concerned about – those who were OK before COVID and now they are not,” he said, adding he was “really worried” about people living in countries with little or no government safety nets. “Acute food and livelihood crisis” is category three of five UN phases, meaning a “critical lack of food access and above usual malnutrition”. Category 5 means mass starvation.
UN officials did not give a geographical breakdown of the growing needs but said that Africa was likely to be hardest hit. The WFP expects to need $10-$12bn to fund its assistance programmes this year compared to a record $8.3bn raised last year, Husain added. It plans to pre-position food stocks over the coming months in anticipation of growing needs.