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Wealthy Countries Must Step Up to Prevent Famine in Developing World, UN Says

"The level of need was already extremely high," one UN official said of vulnerable countries. "The one thing they did not need was one more shock."

Achol Ayut holds her malnourished child and a pot with the only stock of sorghum for her five children on May 31, 2017, at her house in Panthau, Northern Bahr al Ghazal, South Sudan. (Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/AFP via Getty Images)

Top food aid authorities with the United Nations met with the African Union Thursday to discuss the looming food crisis on the continent which is being exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lockdowns in both wealthy and poor countries around the world have hindered humanitarian aid efforts, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told The Guardian, leading to concerns that many developing countries in Africa and in other parts of the world could soon slide into famine if governments in wealthy countries do not take immediate action.

"The world needs a new social contract, for us to come together as an international community."
—Amer Daoudi, World Food Program

"The number of people on the verge of being extremely vulnerable was already very high," Dominique Burgeon, director of emergencies for FAO, told the outlet. "What we fear is that this number will further increase because of the impact of COVID-19 on food security."

The World Food Program (WFP) this week posted to social media a video detailing the top five ways vulnerable countries which were already facing food insecurity could quickly fall into famines due to the pandemic.

The spread of coronavirus could displace families; create an even bigger strain on social safety nets which already serve less than 20% of the population in vulnerable countries; and lead to rising food prices as well as reduced incomes, the program said.

When the coronavirus outbreak began spreading in countries outside China in January, East Africa was already facing the arrival—driven partially by the climate crisis—of huge swarms of locusts, which threatened crops that hundreds of thousands of people in the area rely on.

"The level of need was already extremely high. The one thing they did not need was one more shock. We are very concerned," Burgeon told The Guardian.

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Wealthy governments must immediately step up aid efforts to keep developing countries from approaching famine, UN officials said, both to protect vulnerable people from starvation and malnourishment and to prevent unrest, like the food riots which took place during the global economic crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Romania last week became the first country to ban food exports outside the European Union, while Russia has imposed limits of agricultural exports for the coming months due to the pandemic. 

"We can avoid food shortages if we are able to supply countries across the globe," Amer Daoudi, senior operations director at the WFP, told The Guardian. "But if we interrupt the supply chain, food insecurity will definitely arrive."

FAO said on social media that the U.N. is currently in "a race against time to prevent famines."

The warnings from the FAO and the WFP follow calls from Oxfam International and other anti-poverty campaigners for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to immediately cancel debts for developing countries and create an aid fund that those nations can draw from to shore up their healthcare systems and support people who have lost their incomes as a result of the pandemic.

"The world needs a new social contract, for us to come together as an international community," Daoudi said.

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