The global hunger crisis caused by conflict and compounded by COVID-19 pandemic is moving into a dangerous phase, the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley stressed that without resources, a wave of famine could sweep the globe, overwhelming nations already weakened by years of instability.
“This fight… is far, far, far from over,” he said briefing the Security Council during a virtual debate on conflict-induced hunger Thursday.
Beasley recalled his April briefing to the 15-member Council where he warned that the world was on the verge of a hunger pandemic. Heeding the warning, donors and countries spent $17 trillion in fiscal stimulus packages, reports UN News.
The WFP and its partners were going all out to reach as many as 138 million people this year — “the biggest scale-up in our history,” he said.
But more was needed to help “the 270 million people marching toward the brink of starvation.” Already, 30 million rely solely on WFP for food to survive and will die without it, Beasley said.
He warned famine was possible in up to three dozen countries and could overwhelm places already weakened by conflict, reports AP.
“We’re doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe,” he said.
Recalling Security Council resolution 2417 (2018) that called for effective early warning systems, Beasley said, “I’m here to sound that alarm ... the threat of famine is looming yet again.”
2021 a ‘make or break’ year
Acknowledging that governments reserves are depleting, he said 2021 will be a make or break year. “I urge you: do not walk away from our commitment to humanitarian assistance. Do not turn your backs on the world’s hungry.”
He underscored the critical importance of balancing sensible measures to contain COVID-19 and reiterated that it is vital to guard against unintended consequences that can hit the poorest the hardest.
There are no more excuses for failing to act swiftly and decisively, he said.
Extreme poverty rising
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said the human and economic cost of conflict is astronomical: an estimated 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the 10 most-affected countries.
While 135 million people faced acute food insecurity before COVID-19, that number is expected to almost double this year, to 270 million people. The World Bank expects the number of people in extreme poverty to rise for the first time since the 1990s.
The humanitarian system is doing its utmost but it is in danger of being overwhelmed by the scale of the needs. “That will get worse in the absence of a lot more financial help,” he stressed.
Lowcock, also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, called for scaling up support for humanitarian operations.
Plea for scaled up support
Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), outlined countries and crisis situations where conflict and instability, now also exacerbated by COVID-19, are driving millions into more serious hunger and acute food insecurity.
“This is particularly visible in areas where conflict and other factors such as economic turbulence, and extreme weather, are already driving people into poverty and hunger,” he said.
Globally, the hardest hit include the urban poor, informal workers and pastoral communities as well as people who are already vulnerable – children, women, the elderly, the sick, and persons with disabilities.
“We need first and fast aid to stop hunger,” stressed Qu, adding that without prevention, political willingness and collective action, forecasts for food security continue to worsen.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is expanding risks to peace everywhere.
"It poses an enormous threat to people caught up in conflict, which is why I made an immediate appeal for a global ceasefire," the UN chief said at the UN peace bell ceremony on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the International Day of Peace, which is observed around the world each year on September 21.
"I will repeat the call during the General Debate next week. We need to silence the guns and focus on our common enemy: the virus," said the secretary-general, reports Xinhua.
The annual meeting of world leaders at the UN is going virtual this year for the first time in its 75-year history because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first day of the General Debate is on Sept 22.
Noting that peace is never a given, the UN chief said that "it is an aspiration that is only as strong as our conviction, and only as durable as our hope."
"It can take decades, even centuries, to build peaceful, stable societies. But peace can be squandered in an instant by reckless, divisive policies and approaches," the UN chief noted.
"Beyond war zones, the pandemic is highlighting and exploiting inequalities of all kinds, setting communities and countries against each other," Guterres said.
He called for efforts to "push for peace wherever conflict is raging and wherever there are diplomatic opportunities to silence the guns".
The peace bell ceremony was beamed globally via live feed, with the UN chief and the new UN General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir standing at appropriately distanced podiums, in line with COVID-19 measures.
Bozkir said the pandemic has threatened health, security and the way of life of people everywhere.
"Today we stand separated and masked. The pandemic has brought unexpected levels of misery and hardship to many. But it is the most vulnerable who suffer most, and are still suffering, both in conflict, and at the hands of this disease," he said.
‘We’ll get through it’
Under normal conditions, UN messengers of peace, such as renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, would travel to New York to take part in the peace bell ceremony.
Ma participated virtually in this year's commemoration, as did Jane Goodall, the British primatologist famous for her pioneering research on chimpanzees.
Prior to the official ceremony, the two UN messengers of peace participated in a student observance of the international day, held online. Their colleagues – violinist Midori, conductor Daniel Barenboim, and Paulo Coelho, author of "The Alchemist" – provided inspirational video messages.
Goodall was adamant that the world will get through the pandemic. "But when we get through it, we must get together as a human family," she said. "We must set aside differences between nations, religions, cultures, to tackle a far greater threat, which is the climate crisis."
Ma spoke of the need to build trust between various generations as a means to achieve peace.
"Intergenerational exchange is incredibly important," he told the young audience. "It's your world, and we need to hand you over as best a world as we can, and trust that you are going to be the great stewards over the next half-century."
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India rose to 5,214,677 on Friday morning, as the country has recorded 96,424 new cases in the past 24 hours.
Besides, 1,174 deaths were reported from across the country pushing the total tally to 84,372, said the health ministry, reports Xinhua.
According to ministry officials, 4,112,551 people have been discharged from hospitals after showing improvement.
"The number of active cases in the country is 1,017,754," the information released by the ministry reads.
Meanwhile, 61,572,343 samples have been tested so far across the country, out of which 1,006,615 tests were conducted on Thursday alone, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said Friday.
India has become the second worst-hit country by COVID-19 globally.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the world surpassed 30 million on Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
The global case count reached 30,065,728, with a total of 944,604 deaths worldwide as of Friday, the data showed.
The United States reported the most cases and deaths which stood at 6,674,070 and 197,615, respectively.
Also read: Global Covid-19 cases top 30mn: JHU
The number of children living in multidimensional poverty has soared to approximately 1.2 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new UNICEF and Save the Children analysis published Thursday.
This is a 15 percent increase in the number of children living in deprivation in low- and middle-income countries, or an additional 150 million children since the pandemic hit earlier this year.
The multidimensional poverty analysis uses data on access to education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water from more than 70 countries.
It highlights that around 45 percent children were severely deprived of at least one of these critical needs in the countries analysed before the pandemic.
Although the analysis paints a dire picture, UNICEF warns the situation will likely worsen in the months to come. Save the Children and UNICEF are committed to continue to monitor this evolving situation and work with governments and civil society to confront it.
“COVID-19 and the lockdown measures imposed to prevent its spread have pushed millions of children deeper into poverty,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
“Families on the cusp of escaping poverty have been pulled back in, while others are experiencing levels of deprivation they have never seen before. Most concerningly, we are closer to the beginning of this crisis than its end.”
Also Read- 600m S Asian children threatened by COVID-19
The report notes that child poverty is much more than a monetary value. Although measures of monetary poverty such as household income are important, they provide only a partial view of the plight of children living in poverty.
‘We must act now’
To understand the full extent of child poverty, all potential deprivations must be analysed directly.
This also points to the need to implement multi-sectoral policies addressing health, education, nutrition, water and sanitation and housing deprivations to end multidimensional poverty.
Social protection, inclusive fiscal policies, investments in social services, and employment and labour market interventions to support families are critical to lifting children out of poverty and preventing further devastation.
This includes expanding access to quality healthcare and providing the tools and technology needed for children to continue their education remotely; and investing in family-friendly policies such as paid leave and child care.
“This pandemic has already caused the biggest global education emergency in history, and the increase in poverty will make it very hard for the most vulnerable children and their families to make up for the loss,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children.
“Children who lose out on education are more likely to be forced into child labour or early marriage and be trapped in a cycle of poverty for years to come. We cannot afford to let a whole generation of children become victims of this pandemic. National governments and the international community must step up to soften the blow.”
There are not only more children experiencing poverty than before, the poorest children are getting poorer as well, the report notes.
Some children may suffer one or more deprivations and others experience none at all, therefore the average number of deprivations suffered per child can be used to assess how poor children are.
Before the pandemic, the average number of severe deprivations per child was around 0.7. It is now estimated to have increased by 15 percent to around 0.85.
“We must act now to prevent additional children from being deprived in basic life needs like school, medicine, food, water and shelter,” said Fore.
"Governments must prioritise the most marginalised children and their families through rapid expansion of social protection systems including cash transfers and child benefits, remote learning opportunities, healthcare services and school feeding. Making these critical investments now can help countries to prepare for future shocks.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged governments on Thursday not to “throw away” stimulus funds by supporting fossil fuel industries that contribute to global warming.
Speaking at a virtual conference on climate change, Guterres noted that countries have “a choice of two paths” as they mobilise trillions of dollars of taxpayers' money for economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We can either throw away money on the fossil fuels of the past. That is the road to more pollution. Or we can invest in the technologies of the future, renewable energy, nature-based solutions, sustainable transport and green technologies,” he said, reports AP.
“Only one of these paths is rational,” the UN chief noted.
Guterres noted that large investors are already pulling their money out of heavily polluting industries, especially coal.
“Without taxpayer subsidies they are bankrupt enterprises,” he said, claiming that building new renewable energy plants is already cheaper than continuing to operate almost two-fifths of the world’s existing coal-fired plants.
Several countries, including coal-reliant Germany, have recently agreed to phase out the use of coal for electricity because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide produced from burning it.
In the US, numerous coal-fired power plants have been shut in recent years since 2010 and none of the nation's energy companies are building a new one, despite US President Donald Trump's stated support for the coal industry.
Rethinking relations with nature
Guterres' appeal to governments to stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies was echoed by actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who helped organise the Austrian World Summit in Vienna.
“When you hear that government plans to spend stimulus money bailing out fossil fuels, we must ask ourselves: if investors aren’t supporting those declining companies, why should taxpayers?” Schwarzenegger said by video link from Los Angeles. “Governments must realise what the smart money knows instinctively: don’t invest in the past.”
Efficient uses of money would include making buildings more energy-efficient and weatherproof, installing energy-efficiency appliances, cars using alternative fuels, and planting trees, he said.
Since leaving political office in 2011, the Austrian-American actor has devoted time to environmental causes. A Republican, he has sparred with President Trump over climate issues.
The meeting also heard a video appeal from Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, who called for the need to preserve the Congo rainforest from destruction.
“Use your voice to speak about the Congo rainforest, because millions of people heavily depend on its existence,” she said.
Jane Goodall, the pioneering conservationist, cited the pandemic as a warning for what can happen when humans treat the environment with disregard.
“To a large extent we brought this (pandemic) on ourselves by our disrespecting nature and disrespecting animals,” she said. “We’ve created conditions which make it easy for pathogens to jump from an animal to a person.”
“We need to rethink our relationship with the natural world,” Goodall added. “We need to get together to somehow develop a new green economy and perhaps we need to think of a new definition of what it means to be successful in this life.”