Risk of famine in countries will worsen in 2021, Nobel UN food agency warns
The head of the World Food Program says the Nobel Peace Prize has given the UN agency a spotlight and megaphone to warn world leaders that next year is going to be worse than this year, and without billions of dollars “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021.”
David Beasley said in an interview with The Associated Press that the Norwegian Nobel Committee was looking at the work the agency does every day in conflicts, disasters and refugee camps, often putting staffers’ lives at risk to feed millions of hungry people -- but also to send “a message to the world that it’s getting worse out there ... (and) that our hardest work is yet to come.”
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“It was so timely because we’ve been fighting to get above the choir,” Beasley said of last month’s award, pointing to the news being dominated by the US elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the difficulty of getting global attention focused on “the travesty that we’re facing around the world.”
Beasley recalled his warning to the UN Security Council in April 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.
“We were able to avert it in 2020 ... because the world leaders responded with money, stimulus packages, deferral of debt,” he said.
Now, Beasley said, COVID-19 is surging again, economies are continuing to deteriorate particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and there is another wave of lockdowns and shutdowns.
Beasley said WFP needs $15 billion next year -- $5 billion just to avert famine and $10 billion to carry out the agency’s global programs including for malnourished children and school lunches which are often the only meal youngsters get.
In addition to raising extra money from governments, Beasley said, his other “great hope” is that billionaires that have made billions during the COVID-19 pandemic will step up on a one-time basis. He plans to start pushing this message probably in December or January.
In April, Beasley said 135 million people faced “crisis levels of hunger or worse.” A WFP analysis then showed that COVID-19 could push an additional 130 million people “to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”
He said in Wednesday’s virtual interview from Rome, where WFP is based, that while famine was averted this year, the number of people facing crisis levels of hunger is increasing toward 270 million.
According to a joint analysis by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization 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, Zimbabwe, they said.
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