The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is undertaking the biggest humanitarian response in its history, ramping up the number of people it helps with food to up to 138 million from a record 97 million in 2019. The announcement of their plans to assist this massive number of hungry people resulting from the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 pushing millions more people into food insecurity in low and middle-income countries, took place on 29 June.
David Beasley, executive director at WFP, says the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world. He says until the day a medical vaccine is available, food is the best vaccine against chaos and without it he can see increased social unrest, protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread undernutrition among populations previously immune to hunger.
“But sustained funding is urgently needed to respond to the immediate consequences of the pandemic on the most vulnerable and to support governments and partners as they curb the spread of the disease and deal with the fallout from the pandemic. WFP is appealing for a US$ 4.9 billion over the next six months for its life-saving work in 83 countries,” says Beasley.
Earlier projections on the number of people who would be pushed into food insecurity by COVID-19, have been refined with real-time monitoring and assessments. The new estimates show the number of hungry people in countries where it operates could increase to 270 million before year end which is an 82% increase from before the pandemic took hold.
According to the executive director, the crisis unfolds at a time when the number of severely food insecure people in the world had already risen nearly 70% over the past four years. He says it compounds the effects of climate change, conflict and socio-economic shocks in regions of the world that had previously escaped severe levels of food insecurity. “The fallout from the pandemic is being felt hardest in Latin America with an almost three-fold rise in the number of people needing food help and is being felt among urban communities in low and middle income countries being dragged into destitution by job losses and a precipitous drop in remittances. Spikes in hunger are also evident in West and Central Africa which has experienced a 135% jump in the number of food insecure people, as well as in Southern Africa where there has been a 90% rise,” says Beasley.
Coronavirus infection levels are climbing at the very moment when food stocks in some parts of the world are already low. Many farmers are waiting for crops from new harvests, while hurricane and monsoon seasons are getting underway and record locust invasions in East Africa as well as conflict outbreaks are adding to the challenging outlook for the world’s hungry.
Beasley says this crisis needs an unprecedented response and if we don’t respond rapidly and effectively to this viral threat, the outcome will be an unconscionable loss of life and efforts to reduce hunger being undone. He says the new face of hunger needs specialised responses with a big increase in the use of cash-based transfers and a heavy focus on urban settings.
“Over half of WFP’s new response plan will be delivered in cash and vouchers allowing urban communities to meet their food needs in local markets while providing a stimulus to economies. With WFP delivering life-saving assistance on the front-lines of hunger, it is uniquely positioned to help governments assist and empower vulnerable communities through support to social protection systems, access to basic school-based and nutrition services and support to food systems,” says Beasley.