COVID-19 could force over 19 million people into famine

More than 19 million people, including 10 million children, are at risk of famine in 12 of the world’s most fragile countries, international aid agency World Vision warned today.

A deadly mix of conflict, the economic impacts of COVID-19 and climate-related natural disasters are contributing to the crisis which means the number of people facing starvation and severe malnutrition in these countries has increased by 50 per cent in one year.

The NGO fears that if the international community does not increase funding to meet urgent food needs in these and other fragile contexts, millions could die. Only around 29 per cent of the budget needed to prevent potential famine has been received so far.

Children across the world face devastating hunger every single day. The signs are clear to see. A number of countries are at risk of being plunged into famine situations. We need funds to support children across the world – and we need them right now.

- Andrew Morley, World Vision International President and CEO

Countries that were dealing with crises such as conflict before the COVID-19 pandemic are at the greatest risk of famine. An estimated 5.7 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country mired in conflict for decades, are now at risk of starvation. This represents a 77 per cent increase when compared to 2019.

“COVID-19 is one more shock for the most vulnerable children living in fragile contexts who face multiple crises, including armed conflict, which deeply affect their access to nutritious food,” said Morley.

“Restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus continue to hit the incomes of poor families the hardest, meaning they don’t have enough money to purchase food. Conflict and COVID-19 are a disastrous combination, making it incredibly difficult to get help to the children and families who need it most. There is no social welfare safety net to support these people and that’s why the international community must urgently step up.”

Acute hunger has been climbing for the past four years, reaching a peak of 135 million in 2019 due to a deadly mix of conflict and increased climate and economic shocks. COVID-19 has pushed this trend into overdrive. In April 2020 the Head of the World Food Programme warned that the number of people facing acute hunger could double due to COVID-19.

“We are facing an imminent crisis – children of the world need us now. The number of children at risk of famine because they cannot access nutritious food has increased by 50 per cent in a year. We must stop at nothing to prevent a potential famine that could rob them of a future and their God-given potential,” says Morley.

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