A mother gives nutritional tips to her child. More than 820 million people are hungry. File photo
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for immediate action Tuesday to avoid a "global food emergency,” saying more than 820 million people are hungry, some 144 million children under 5-years-old are stunted, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse.
He said there is more than enough food to feed the world’s 7.8 billion people but "our food systems are failing.”
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The UN chief launched a policy briefing on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition Tuesday which said before the pandemic more than 820 million people were "chronically food insecure,” with 135 million at crisis levels or worse.
"That number could nearly double before the end of the year due to the impacts of COVID-19,” the briefing said.
And Guterres said some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic and its impact.
Noting forecasts of a global economic downturn this year, he warned that every percentage point drop in global GDP means an additional 700,000 stunted children.
According to the briefing, measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting global food supply chains.
"Border restrictions and lock-downs are, for example, slowing harvests in some parts of the world, leaving millions of seasonal workers without livelihoods, while also constraining transport of food to markets,” the UN briefing said.
It pointed to the forced closure of meat processing plants and food markets in many locations because of serious COVID-19 outbreaks.
Agnes Kalibata, the UN special envoy to a Food Systems Summit scheduled in 2021, said "from the US to India, produce is rotting in the fields as lock-downs keep people from harvesting and planting crops.”
"That means less income for desperately hungry people to buy food and less food available, at higher prices,” she said in a statement. "And this is happening across the world.”
Kalibata also said millions of liters of milk are being dumped in the United Kingdom for lack of buyers "while in Colombia families hang red flags outside their windows to indicate they are hungry.”
“The response to Covid and to the financial aspects [of the crisis] has been fragmented, and geopolitical divides are not helping,” Guterres told the FT.
Over three dozen countries who are just one step away from famine driven by conflict — and the World Food Program chief warned that 270 million people are facing "a hunger crisis” this year.
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