With the world spending most of 2020 gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, there are dire fears suffering could become even worse in 2021.
While there have been hopes of a vaccine next year as the coronavirus continues to surge around the world, there are predictions of disastrous offsets including “famines of biblical proportions”.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, said his 20,000 staffers who fed millions of people affected by conflicts, disasters and refugee camps were sending the message it was getting worse out there.
“Our hardest work is yet to come,” he said.
‘On the brink of a hunger pandemic’
With collapsing economies due to coronavirus, more and more people are staring down the barrel of being left with nothing.
Mr Beasley said while governments have been able to act and offer extra funding and financial boosts, the money will eventually run dry.
In April, Mr Beasley warned the UN Security Council that as the world was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it was also “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months if immediate action wasn’t taken.
He claims the crisis was however temporarily averted as world leaders responded to the coronavirus pandemic with money and stimulus packages.
However with Covid surging again and economies continuing to deteriorate, particularly in low and middle-income countries, new lockdowns could lead to more dire consequences come next year.
With the money available in 2020 likely to diminish next year, Mr Beasley is appealing to world leaders to understand “the tragedy that we are facing – crises that really are going to be extraordinary over the next, who knows, 12 to 18 months”.
“I’m telling them you’re not going to have enough money to fund all the projects you historically fund,” he said.
“Those are important things.
“Right now, we really need to focus on icebergs, and icebergs are famine, starvation, destabilisation and migration.”
260 million people face ‘crisis levels of hunger’
Back in April, Mr Beasley said 135 million people faced “crisis levels of hunger or worse”.
But since the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold of the globe, the World Food Program boss has made the grim prediction illness could push an additional 130 million people “to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020”.
During a virtual interview from Rome with Associated Press, Mr Beasley said the total number of people facing crisis levels of hunger was tilting towards 270 million.
To put it in perspective, that is more than 10 times the population of Australia.
“There’s about three dozen countries that could possibly enter the famine conditions if we don’t have the money we need,” Mr Beasley said.
According to a joint analysis by World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in October, 20 countries “are likely to face potential spikes in high acute food insecurity” in the next three to six months, and require “urgent attention”.
Of those, Yemen, South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Burkina Faso have some areas that “have reached a critical hunger situation following years of conflict or other shocks”, the UN agencies said, and any further deterioration in coming months “could lead to a risk of famine”.
Other countries requiring “urgent attention” are Afghanistan, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Lebanon, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somali, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, they said.
‘We’re very, very, concerned’
Mr Beasley said a COVID-19 vaccine would create some optimism that hopefully would help jump start the economies around the world, particularly the Western economies.
But the World Food Program executive director said there’s already been US$17 billion of economic stimulus this year “and we’re not going to have that globally”.
“We’re very, very, very concerned that with deferred debt payments for low and middle-income countries resuming in January, new lockdowns and the rippling economic impact, 2021’s going to be a very bad year,” Mr Beasley said.
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