COVID puts more than 19 million people at risk of famine, half of them children

Countries like Australia need to do more – and fast, says World Vision

More than 19 million people, including 10 million children, are at risk of famine in 12 of the world’s most fragile countries due to a deadly mix of conflict, COVID-19 and climate-related disasters, World Vision warned today.

The humanitarian agency fears millions could die if the international community, including Australia, does not boost funding to meet urgent food needs in these and other fragile nations. Only about 29 per cent of the budget needed to prevent potential famine has been received so far.

“We need funds to support children across the world – and we need them now,” Carsten Bockemuehl, World Vision Australia

Carsten Bockemuehl, senior policy advisor for Children in Armed Conflict at World Vision Australia, said the need was urgent.

“Children across the world face devastating hunger every single day,” he said. “Several countries now risk being plunged into famine situations due to COVID-19. We need funds to support children across the world – and we need them now.

The grim forecast equates to a 50 per cent rise in people at risk of starvation, compared with last year. Countries researched include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Nigeria (north-east), South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe.

The United Nation’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response plan was drawn up to provide food assistance in the world’s hunger hotspots, among many interventions. To date, Australia has given just 0.9 per cent ($38 million) of total funds dispersed – a third of what Denmark has provided, and an eighth of the UK’s offering.

To date, Australia has given just 0.9 per cent ($38 million) of total funds dispersed – an eighth of what the UK provided [to the United Nation’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response]

“We are facing an imminent crisis – children of the world need us now. Australia cannot stand on the sidelines and watch while the lives of millions of children hang by a thread. We must contribute our fair share to the UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan,” Mr Bockemuehl said.

Acute hunger has been climbing for the past four years, reaching a peak of 135 million in 2019 due to conflicts, as well as increased climate and economic shocks. COVID-19 has pushed this into overdrive. The risk of famine is even greater for countries already dealing with crises before the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been mired in conflict for decades. It now has 5.7 million people at risk of starvation – a 77 per cent increase on 2019.

Bockemuehl said conflict and COVID-19 were “a disastrous combination” making it incredibly difficult to get help to children and families who need it most.

“COVID-19 is one more shock for the most vulnerable children living in fragile societies who face multiple crises, including armed conflict and forced displacement, which deeply affect their access to nutritious food,” Bockemuehl explained. “Restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus continue to hit the incomes of poor families the hardest, meaning they don’t have enough money to purchase food.

“There is no social welfare safety net to support these people and that’s why the international community must urgently step up.”