PARIS (AFP) - The coronavirus pandemic could nearly double the number of people around the world facing acute hunger, the UN's World Food Programme said on Tuesday (April 21), its director warning of a looming "global humanitarian catastrophe".
"We are on the brink of a hunger pandemic," David Beasley, the WFP's executive director, told the UN Security Council in a video conference.
The warning came as the WFP and other partners released a new report on food crises around the world that predicted an explosive growth in the number of people threatened with "acute food insecurity".
The fourth annual Global Report on Food Crises said the number was already on the rise last year before the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
But the economic impact of Covid-19 is projected by the WFP to increase the number facing food insecurity to 265 million this year, from 135 million in 2019, already the highest in the four years the report has been prepared.
"With Covid-19, I want to stress that we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe," Beasley said.
"Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the spectre of famine a very real and dangerous possibility," he said.
"In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries, and in fact, in 10 of these countries we already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation."
Comparing the 50 countries in the reports this and last year, the number of people in food crisis rose by nearly 10 percent to 123 million people.
The increase was due to conflicts, economic shocks and weather-related events such as drought.
The report found another 183 million were at risk of slipping into food crisis "if confronted by an additional shock or stressor".
Covid-19 could easily turn out to be such a shock, both as ill people overwhelm hospitals and governments impose lockdowns that have disrupted the economy and thrown people out of work.
"Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread," the WFP's Senior Economist Arif Husain said in a statement.
"We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe," he added.
The report is compiled and published annually by a number of groups and aid organisations.