The head of the United Nations' food agency has warned that, as the world is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, it is also "on the brink of a hunger pandemic" that could lead to "multiple famines of biblical proportions" within a few months.
World Food Programme executive director David Beasley told the UN Security Council that even before Covid-19 became an issue, he was telling world leaders that "2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two".
He cited wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, locust swarms in Africa, frequent natural disasters and economic crises including in Lebanon, Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Mr Beasley said 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, a further 135 million people are facing "crisis levels of hunger or worse".
A new World Food Programme analysis shows that as a result of Covid-19 an additional 130 million people "could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020".
He said in the video briefing that WFP is providing food to nearly 100 million people on any given day, including "about 30 million people who literally depend on us to stay alive".
Mr Beasley, who is recovering from Covid-19, said if those 30 million people cannot be reached, "our analysis shows that 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period" and that does not include increased starvation due to the coronavirus.
We are facing a hunger pandemic @WFPchief David Beasley tells @UN Security Council.— World Food Programme (@WFP) April 21, 2020
It is critical we come together as one united global community to defeat this disease and protect the most vulnerable nations and communities from #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/1TMBGbQxNv
"In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries, and in fact, in ten of these countries we already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation," he said.
According to WFP, the ten countries with the worst food crises in 2019 were Yemen, Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria and Haiti.
Mr Beasley said in many countries the food crisis is the result of conflict.
But he said he raised the prospect of a hunger "pandemic" because "there is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of Covid-19 than from the virus itself".
The WFP chief said lockdowns and economic recession are expected to lead to major income losses for the working poor.
He said: "The truth is, we do not have time on our side, so let's act wisely - and let's act fast.
"I do believe that with our expertise and partnerships, we can bring together the teams and the programmes necessary to make certain the Covid-19 pandemic does not become a humanitarian and food crisis catastrophe."