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A motorcyclist rides through a swarm of desert locusts in Kipsing, near Oldonyiro, in Isiolo county, Kenya on March 31, 2020.
Sven Torfinn/FAO/AP
Food & Hunger

COVID-19 Could Double Africa’s Food Insecurity, World Food Programme Chief Warns

By Simon Marks | Voice of America

Addis Ababa — The head of the World Food Programme tells the Voice of America (VOA) the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity in Africa could more than double due to COVID-19. 

Executive Director David Beasley says the impact of the virus on the economy and the flow of supplies could affect more than 40 million people in East Africa alone.

The head of the WFP has warned a failure to keep food supply chains open during the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic could result in more people dying of hunger than of the virus itself.

During a 4-day trip [in] Africa, Beasley told VOA there are already grave problems distributing food because of curfews, long delays for truck drivers at border crossings, and mandatory quarantines affecting pilots.

The WFP has identified 28 hotspots in Africa where trade is slow due to coronavirus restrictions, says Beasley.

“Quite frankly, we’ve had 350,000 people around the world die from COVID over five months," said Beasley. "If the supply chain breaks down like we’re looking at, along with the economic deterioration, we could have 300,000 people die per day. Per day. It can’t be COVID versus hunger, we’ve got to thread the needle and balance both.” 

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The WFP chief is calling on governments to more carefully review whether all the restrictions are needed.

“Africa is very fragile. If we shut down ports, even for a few days, if we have border restrictions, even for a few days, it will have a major hunger and humanitarian impact to the people," he said. 

"We are already running into issues," he continued. "We’re working with the leaders, explaining the complications and the impact ripple effect if they do restrictions unnecessarily.”  

In April, the WFP said that the number of people facing acute food insecurity globally could nearly double this year to 265 million due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. Most of those people reside in Africa.  

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The number of people living on the verge of starvation has already risen to 135 million today from 80 million four years ago due to a culmination of disasters from flooding in Kenya, insecurity in the Sahel, and locust plagues throughout East Africa, says the WFP.  

In the Horn of Africa alone, there are already approximately 20 million people suffering from severe food insecurity, a number the WFP estimates could rise to 43 million this year due to COVID-19 and other factors, such as locust swarms.

In Ethiopia, the region’s most populous country, 7 million people are on the verge of starvation. Beasley says the situation could get worse.

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“If you do a lockdown in some of the urban areas in Africa and those young people lose their jobs, and they are living day to day hand to mouth, and they lose their job and they don’t have food, you’re going to have disruption. You’re going to have protests and riots and chaos," said Beasley.

The WFP has set up two humanitarian hubs at airports in Ethiopia and Ghana to transport medical supplies, food, and humanitarian workers across the continent.

Beasley, who recovered from the coronavirus in April, said the WFP needs $960 million just to keep the supply chain up and running for humanitarian food aid.

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Abdi Jama, coordinator of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s food security hub, told VOA supply trucks are backed up at the border between Kenya and Uganda due to measures to contain the virus. Jama reports price hikes due to a lack of supplies.

“It’s looking more or less like a doubling of the number of people in need of food aid. In previous years, we used to think more about the agro-pastoralists and [those working in] agriculture," said Abdi. "But now, we have the issue of these informal settlements in the urban areas, which are really a new group of people that are coming on board.”

Jama also said that the Horn of Africa has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people in the world, creating another group at high risk.