World on brink of ‘biblical proportions’ famine: WFP

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
Migrant labourers and families from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states in India hold kitchen utensils as they protest against the government for the lack of food at a slum area during lockdown, yesterday. The WFP has warned of a hunger crisis. Photo/AFP

Washington, Wednesday

The world is at risk of widespread famines “of biblical proportions” caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN has warned.

David Beasley, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), said urgent action was needed to avoid a catastrophe.

A report estimates that the number suffering from hunger could go from 135 million to more than 250 million.

The warning came as President Donald Trump vowed to sign Wednesday an order partially blocking immigration to the United States, as health experts warned a second US coronavirus wave could be even more destructive.

Trump said his action was being taken “to protect American workers” after 22 million people lost their jobs in the US alone in the devastating economic backlash sparked by unprecedented measures taken to halt the spread of the virus.

 The US, with over 45,000 deaths and more than 800,000 infections, is the hardest-hit country.

Nations around the world have been scrambling to fight the pandemic which has killed more than 178,000 people and infected more than 2.5 million worldwide. 

Europe saw its death toll climb to another grim milestone of 110,000, with Spain reporting a slight increase for a second day running in the number of people who succumbed to the disease.

But Germany, which this week cautiously began allowing shops to reopen, offered another glimpse of hope when it approved the launch of trials on human volunteers for a vaccine.

The trial, which was only the fourth to have been authorised worldwide, was a “significant step” in making a vaccine “available as soon as possible”, regulator the Paul Ehrlich Institut said.

But with months to go before a viable vaccine can be rolled out, more than half of humanity remains under some form of lockdown.

Singapore extended its confinement for a month to June 1, as the Asian city-state which managed to keep its outbreak in check early on is hit by the onslaught of second wave of infections.

The director of the US Centers for Disease Control also warned Americans to prepare for a more ferocious second wave.

With businesses shuttered and millions of jobs lost, the world is facing its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the WFP said it would hit the least privileged the hardest.

“I want to stress that we are not only facing a global health pandemic, but also a global humanitarian catastrophe,” Beasley told the UN Security Council Tuesday.

“Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations face being pushed to the brink of starvation.”

Standing in line in Bangkok’s historic quarter for food donations of rice, noodles, milk and curry packets, Chare Kunwong, a 46-year-old masseur said: “If I wait for the government’s aid then I’ll be dead first.”

Those most at hunger risk are in 10 countries affected by conflict, economic crisis and climate change, the WFP says. In South Sudan, 61 per cent of the population was affected by food crisis last year, the report says.

Even before the pandemic hit, parts of East Africa and South Asia were already facing severe food shortages caused by drought and the worst locust infestations for decades. -AFP

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