'We're facing a double pandemic': UN body warns of 'mega-famines'

WFP warns of multiple famines if enough funds are not pledged to help poor nations fight ripple effects of coronavirus.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the world faces “mega-famines” if enough funds are not pledged to combat the ripple effects of coronavirus pandemic on the world’s most fragile countries, which are  already grappling with food insecurity.

“What we are facing now is a double pandemic … [of] famines that could impact us at biblical proportions,” WFP’s executive director David Beasley said during a conference in Geneva on Thursday.


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Beasley said the UN’s food agency helps nearly 100 million people on any given day and “unless we can keep those essential operations going, the health pandemic will soon be followed by a hunger pandemic”.

“There’s no question. Mega-famines are on our brink literally right now,” he said.

“Before COVID-19 hit the scene, we already had 135 million people, as I say, marching on the brink of starvation. That’s in addition to the 821 million people that are chronically hungry.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the caseload in most of the developing countries targeted for assistance in the UN appeal “may seem small, but we know that the surveillance, laboratory testing and health systems’ capacity in these countries are weak”.

“It is therefore likely that there is undetected community transmission happening,” he said.

UN agencies are attempting to create a coordinated, global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most devastating and destabilising effects” of the novel coronavirus pandemic “will be felt in the world’s poorest countries,” the UN’s head of humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.

“Unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. The spectre of multiple famines looms,” he warned.

UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi also said the impact of the pandemic on people who fled wars and persecution “has been devastating”.

He said the needs of refugees, people displaced in their own countries, stateless people and their hosts “are vast but not insurmountable”.

“Only collective action to curb the threat of the coronavirus can save lives,” he said. 

Lowcock, the humanitarian chief, said the pandemic “is unlike anything we have dealt with in our lifetime”.

“Extraordinary measures are needed,” he said. “As we come together to combat this virus, I urge donors to act in both solidarity and in self-interest and make their response proportionate to the scale of the problem we face.”

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