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Coronavirus Could Cause Famines of ‘Biblical Proportions’ Around the World In 2020

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here. Coronavirus risks causing multiple famines “of biblical proportions,” and could nearly double the number of people on the brink of starvation by the end of the year, the head of the U.N. food agency has warned. Addressing the U.N. Security Council by…

Coronavirus Could Cause Famines of ‘Biblical Proportions’ Around the World In 2020

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Coronavirus risks causing multiple famines “of biblical proportions,” and could nearly double the number of people on the brink of starvation by the end of the year, the head of the U.N. food agency has warned.

Addressing the U.N. Security Council by video conference Tuesday, World Food Program executive director David Beasley said that 135 million people were already facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, and that as a result of COVID-19, an additional 130 million people “could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”

“We could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months,” he said, calling on the international community to act swiftly to avoid “a hunger pandemic.”

“The truth is we do not have time on our side.”

Beasley was presenting the findings of the new Global Report on Food Crises, an annual report of the global food security landscape produced by 16 international groups. It found that while food crises in many of the worst affected countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria were caused by conflict, the wide-ranging impacts of coronavirus are likely to further deteriorate food supplies and access in dozens of vulnerable countries.

“There is… a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself,” Beasley, who is recovering from COVID-19 himself, told the Security Council.

READ: Coronavirus is so bad Saudi Arabia called a ceasefire in Yemen’s nightmare civil war

The report found that there are 135 million acutely vulnerable people in 55 countries around the world, who have “very limited or no capacity” to cope with either health or economic impacts of the pandemic. World Food Program senior economist Arif Husain said coronavirus could be catastrophic “hammer blow” for these populations, who can only eat if they earn a wage and “are already hanging by a thread.”

“It only takes one more shock — like COVID-19 — to push them over the edge,” he said in a statement.

READ: Syria confirms its first coronavirus case: “It’s our worst nightmare”

Coronavirus is expected to impact these millions of acutely vulnerable people in myriad ways, with lockdowns and sickness hampering the transport and processing of food, reducing its availability, and hurting farmers dependent on selling their produce. Steep drops in overseas remittances from locked-down countries will hurt poorer nations that depend on them for subsistence, while the collapse of oil prices will have a severe impact on exporters like South Sudan.

Already, the pandemic is already having a major impact on the delivery of essential humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations due to restrictions on movement. In war-ravaged northeast Syria, which confirmed its first coronavirus case last week, the main route for humanitarian aid via Iraqi Kurdistan has been largely closed to international aid, prompting pleas from aid groups to urgently open the border.

“Exemptions must be granted to humanitarian workers to ensure that [enough] support reaches northeast Syria,” said Will Turner, emergency manager for Doctors Without Borders.

READ: Coronavirus just hit one of the most vulnerable parts of war-torn Syria

“We have much-needed additional supplies… ready to travel, but we lack the guarantees that they can enter Iraqi Kurdistan and move on into northeast Syria.”

Beasley urged the Security Council to swiftly release about $2 billion of aid that has been pledged, and called for a further $350 million in new funding to set up a logistics network to get food and other aid where it is urgently needed. If the international community fails to act, he warned, it will face the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War II.

“Famine is a very real and dangerous possibility,” he said. “We’re… facing a perfect storm.”

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Cover: A volunteer distributes food to the vulnerable people during the nationwide lockdown. On the initiative of Mr, Mohammad Mazharul Islam Sentu, President of South Kamalapur Jame Mosque, relief food has been distributed at noon every day since March 26. (Photo by Md Manik / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

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