Starvation’s toll tops virus risk for poorest nations, UN warns

Sacks of food aid from the World Food Programme donated by the United Kingdom and the United States. (Phil Moore, AFP)
Sacks of food aid from the World Food Programme donated by the United Kingdom and the United States. (Phil Moore, AFP)

The economic hardship in the developing world caused by the spread of coronavirus may lead to starvation, eclipsing the disease’s direct toll on health, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

An analysis by the program estimated 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, doubling the number facing acute food insecurity worldwide to 265 million, Executive Director David Beasley said Tuesday.

"We are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe," Beasley told the UN Security Council. "Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility."

The virus’s economic threats to the developing world include the collapse of tourism, a drop in overseas remittances and plummeting oil prices, Beasley added.

The official said nations such as Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia are heavily dependent on remittances while countries such as Ethiopia will miss out on tourism, which makes up 47% of total exports. At the same time, collapsing oil prices could devastate South Sudan, where oil is essentially the country’s only real export.

Beasley said the organization is implementing plans to store three months of food and cash to serve country operations identified as priorities. The organization is also requesting $350 million to set up a network of logistics hubs and transport systems to keep humanitarian supply chains moving around the world.

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