Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2020. 5:23 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is warning of an imminent catastrophe only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Latin America.
It says that unless swift action is taken, hunger and food insecurity currently threatening those in the region risks fuelling conflict and political unrest and forcing vulnerable families to migrate, provoking far-reaching consequences.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley, who visited Ecuador and Panama and spoke to other leaders in Latin America last week, estimated that some 44 million are out of work and families are struggling to find even the basics. “It’s a deadly combination and we’ve got to act now, and we’ve got to be smart. You can’t just deal with COVID-19 by itself or hunger by itself. They must be dealt with together. If we do it right, we can save lives. If we don’t do it right, people will die.”
As many as 16 million will soon not know where their next meal will come from, up 269 percent or about four times as many as 2019. Most of these vulnerable populations can be found in Haiti, among Venezuelans settling in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and the “dry corridor” along Central America’s Pacific Coast including Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The teeth of the hurricane season, expected to be more active than usual, adds extra strain and new risks.
The cost of WFP’s response to this burgeoning food insecurity accounts for about a third of the updated COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, the largest appeal in the UN’s history, launched today, for more than US$ 10 billion. The plan covers wide-ranging humanitarian needs in more than 60 countries, many of them already reeling from the impact of conflict, climate change and economic crisis. There is a special provision of $500 million which is earmarked to prevent the outbreak of famine in countries most at risk.
The number of acute food insecure people in these at-risk countries could increase from an estimated 149 million pre-COVID-19 to 270 million before the end of the year if life-saving assistance is not provided urgently. Recent estimates also suggest that up to 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as a result of pandemic-related disruptions to essential health and nutrition services.
Based in Panama, the WFP is requesting US$328 million in additional funding to support relief and recovery operations in the region. These include providing take-home food rations for children no longer able to attend school, and vouchers and cash so people can shop at local stores and supporting governments to strengthen and expand national safety net programmes.
“Three months ago at the UN Security Council, I told world leaders that we ran the risk of a famine of biblical proportions,” said Beasley. “Today, our latest data tell us that, since then, millions of the world’s very poorest families have been forced even closer to the abyss. Livelihoods are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate and now their lives are in imminent danger from starvation. Make no mistake – if we do not act now to end this pandemic of human suffering, many people will die.”
Belize recently replenished funds for the Food Assistance Program and continued the Unemployment Relief Program with funding from OFID and the World Bank respectively, while also boosting the ongoing Food Pantry and BOOST conditional cash transfer program to include long-term unemployed. Some 50,000 have already benefited from the URP and thousands more from the FAP.
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