World facing worst hunger, WFP warns

Little Ms Kenya 2019 Briana Nyambura, 12 and Tiny Mr Kenya Jessie Smith, six, give food donations to Kwa Rhonda residents on Saturday. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The world today has the largest number of hungry people courtesy of the devastating effects of the coronavirus disease, according to a UN agency. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday announced it is undertaking the biggest humanitarian response in its history, targeting 138 million people up from 97 million last year, particularly in low and middle-income countries.

“The frontline in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world,” said David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director in Rome, Italy.

“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos. Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests; a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition among populations previously immune from hunger.”

83 countries

WFP is appealing for a ($4.9 billion) over the next six months for its life-saving work in 83 countries.

Earlier, the agency’s projections on the number of people who would be pushed into food insecurity by Covid-19 have now been refined with real-time monitoring and assessments. WFP’s new estimates show the number of hungry people in countries where it operates could increase to 270 million before the year’s end - an 82 per cent rise before the pandemic. Beasley said the crisis unfolds at a time when the number of severely food insecure people in the world had risen to nearly 70 per cent over the past four years, compounding 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, which has seen an almost three-fold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance, and among urban communities in low and middle-income countries, which are being dragged into destitution by job losses and a precipitous drop in remittances,” Beasley said.

He said spikes in hunger are also evident in West and Central Africa, which has seen a 135 per cent jump in the number of food insecure people as well as in Southern Africa where there has been a 90 per cent rise.

“At this time of year many farmers are awaiting crops from new harvests. Hurricane and monsoon seasons are getting underway, while record locust invasions in East Africa and outbreaks of conflict are adding to an already challenging outlook for the world’s hungry,” he said.

He said this unprecedented crisis requires an unprecedented response. “If we do not respond rapidly and effectively to this viral threat, the outcome will be measured in an unconscionable loss of life, and efforts to roll back the tide of hunger will be undone.” 

The new face of hunger, Beasley said, requires specialised responses, with a big increase in the use of cash-based transfers, and a heavy focus on urban settings.