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Covid-19 has pushed millions into food crisis

A father and child wait to get food rations at a village in the western province of Hajjah, Yemen, in September 2020. Keystone/EPA/Yahya Arhab.

The pandemic has left millions without enough food, according to new data. Experts warn that widespread famine may be around the corner.

Before Covid-19, 135 million people around the world faced acute food insecurity due to conflict, extreme weather, and economic turmoil. Now, new analysis by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) reveals that the pandemic has exacerbated existing food insecurities, pushing some countries to the brink of famine.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 21.8 million people now face severe food shortages, making it the world's largest food crisis since the pandemic hit. Other African countries - Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Burkina Faso - have also seen an unprecedented escalation in levels of hunger, with the number of people facing acute hunger in Burkina Faso up by 300 percent.

The international community must act immediately, Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said in a side event of the UN General Assembly on 15 September to launch the annual Global Report on Food Crises.

“We've got a huge crisis, the biggest crisis the world has seen for 50 years,” he said. “We've had a very tepid response in terms of supporting these countries who are at risk of mass starvation. Until we get to grips with that we will not be dealing with the risk of famines being back and mass loss of life. ”

Covid-19's impact on hunger For countries already in crisis, the pandemic has introduced new challenges. Physical distancing, restrictions on movement, curfews, and the closure of food markets have limited food availability and disrupted informal trade - which is critical to much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Tighter border controls have also diminished work for migrant labourers - a primary source of income for poor households - and a drop in crop production has led to higher food prices, particularly in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

“Covid-19 has multiplied misery by praying on the weak and the vulnerable,” Tomson Phiri, Geneva-based spokesperson for the World Food Program (WFP), told Geneva Solutions. “It has pushed millions out of work and into hunger.”

“In areas of concern, particularly in the countries that were facing extreme challenges - the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, northeastern parts of Nigeria - people's livelihoods were destroyed at an unprecedented rate,” he added. “What we are seeing now is that their lives are in imminent danger from starvation. Many of the people that we are assisting in these countries are just one day away from hunger, [as their] jobs have evaporated and remittances have dwindled. ”

What next? As restrictive measures are eased, markets and food supply chains have largely stabilised. But food insecurity persists, exacerbated by fewer jobs, lower incomes, and increasing food prices.

“The needs are far outpacing the available resources,” Phiri told Geneva Solutions. “We appeal to the donors, private sector, and foundations to dig deeper. We cannot turn away from the need. ”