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A perfect storm of pandemics and catastrophes 

There are calls for urgent action for the UN Security Council to provide life-saving assistance in what David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) calls: “The worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two.”

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Famine and food insecurity, conflict, extreme weather, locusts and the coronavirus pandemic are creating a perfect storm of humanitarian crises in places such as Yemen and Burkina Faso. This photo shows a man inspecting the status of the buildings devastated by the war in the city of Taiz, Yemen. Photo: Anas Alhajj /123rf

In a recent statement, Beasley pointed to deepening crises, more frequent natural disasters and changing weather patterns, saying: “We’re already facing a perfect storm.”

As millions of civilians in conflict-scarred nations teeter on the brink of starvation, he said that famine is a very real and dangerous possibility. 

Beasley painted a grim picture of 135 million people facing crisis levels of hunger or worse, coupled with an additional 130 million on the edge of starvation prompted by coronavirus, noting that WFP currently offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people – up from about 80 million just a few years ago. 

“If we can’t reach these people with the life-saving assistance they need, our analysis shows that 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period”, he says. “This does not include the increase of starvation due to Covid-19.” 

Requesting assistance

The WFP chief said that the UN Security Council needs to lead the way, noting that the WFP is the logistics backbone for humanitarians and now more than ever before because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“First and foremost, we need peace,” he said, asking all involved in the fighting provide “swift and unimpeded” humanitarian access to vulnerable communities and for co-ordinated action to support life-saving assistance, along with $350 million in new funding to set up a network of logistics hubs to keep worldwide humanitarian supply chains moving. 

Beasley also raised the need for early warning systems: “If we don’t prepare and act now – to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade – we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”

In closing, he said: “We do not have time on our side, so let’s act wisely – and let’s act fast.” 

Link between conflict and food security

Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu highlighted how the newly-released 2020 Global Report on Food Crises report clearly links conflict and rising levels of acute food insecurity.

Against the backdrop of 135 million people in 55 countries who experienced acute food insecurity in 2019, nearly 60 per cent of whom lived in conflict or instability, he cited Yemen as the location of the world’s worst food and malnutrition crisis this year, saying that the number of acutely food-insecure people there is expected to exceed 17 million.

The FAO chief also drew a connection between livelihood interventions and peace processes, spelling out that: “Coherent actions are needed among humanitarian, development and peace actors to address the root causes of acute food insecurity.”

He also underscored the importance of early warning and quick action to pre-empt food insecurity caused by conflicts.

While conflict, extreme weather, desert locusts, economic shocks and now Covid-19, are likely to cause more food insecurity for more people, Qu saw a ray of hope, saying: “By closely monitoring the evolution of these shocks, we can rapidly intervene to mitigate their impacts.”

Noting that widespread conflict and instability lead to food insecurity, and that reducing or preventing conflict reduces and prevents hunger, the FAO chief closed with the words: “We have mobilised our organisations in ways not seen since the foundation of the UN.”

Field-based obstacles

Former top UN humanitarian affairs official, Jan Egeland, now Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, appealed to the Security Council for help with field-based obstacles in reaching hungry people living in a wartime setting.

“In my 40 years as a humanitarian worker, I have never seen as many people displaced by conflict as now,” he said. “We see more longer, crueller conflicts cause mounting hunger, as families flee their homes, their farms their fields and their livelihoods and they become dependent on the generosity of the hosts’ communities that themselves are in the precarious situation.”

He elaborated that Burkina Faso has experienced a ten-fold increase in forced displacement in just one year, saying that nowhere else in the world has such an escalation been seen. 

To mitigate the humanitarian situation, Egeland made five requests beginning with: “Safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to everyone everywhere.” 

He also stressed the need for stronger humanitarian diplomacy to reach people with assistance and to strengthen deconfliction, saying that by informing parties of protected humanitarian sites and aid convoys, humanitarians can deliver support without being attacked.

“Most importantly, there must be accountability for attacks on protected sites,” concluded Egeland. 

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