Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Hashem Mahmoud Atin, a 10-month-old displaced Yemeni child suffering from acute malnutrition and who is unable to reach a hospital for treatment, is held by his mother at a camp in Abs in northern Yemen's Hajjah province on September 3, 2020. (Photo: Essa Ahmed/AFP via Getty Images)

Hashem Mahmoud Atin, a 10-month-old displaced Yemeni child suffering from acute malnutrition and who is unable to reach a hospital for treatment, is held by his mother at a camp in Abs in northern Yemen's Hajjah province on September 3, 2020. (Photo: Essa Ahmed/AFP via Getty Images)

UN Warns Pandemic-Intensified Famines Are Looming, 'Endangering the Lives of Millions'

"A lack of funding for emergency relief and the complications created by the coronavirus scourge have now pushed some of the world's neediest populations closer to famine conditions."

Kenny Stancil

The convergence of socio-environmental "disasters, economic shocks, and public health crises, all compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic," has magnified the risks of famine, "endangering the lives of millions" of people living in Yemen, South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations' top humanitarian official warned in a statement obtained by the New York Times over the weekend.  

"It is critical we come together as one united global community to defeat this disease, and protect the most vulnerable nations and communities from its potentially devastating effects."
David Beasley, World Food Program

In a letter to members of the U.N. Security Council, Mark Lowcock, under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, warned of the looming intensification of malnutrition, starvation, and death in all four areas—encompassing some of the world's most destitute regions, each one further hampered by years of armed conflicts that diminish the ability of humanitarian relief workers to safely distribute aid. 

Lowcock's recent letter, which has not yet been made public, fulfills a requirement of a 2018 Security Council resolution to report "the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity"—but in many ways, the impending arrival of what the Times called "the first famines of the coronavirus era" is a catastrophe foretold

In April, David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), explained that while the world was confronting the Covid-19 pandemic, "we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic."

Beasley stressed that "we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility." 

The WFP leader estimated that, due to coronavirus, the number of people on the brink of starvation could nearly double from 135 million to 265 million people by the end of 2020. He warned of a worst-case scenario in which "about three dozen countries" could be contending with famine and pointed out that in 10 countries, there are already "more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation." 

"There are no famines yet," Beasley said. "But I must warn you that if we don't prepare and act now—to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade—we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months," particularly in countries in Africa as well as the Middle East where many communities were already vulnerable to hunger prior to the pandemic due to a combination of factors such as poverty, armed conflict, and climate change.

Reflecting the conclusions reached in the U.N.'s "Policy Brief on Covid-19 in an Urban World," Ken Crossley, head of cash assistance at the WFP, recommended bolstering cash transfers to support millions of slum-dwellers whose livelihoods were upended by pandemic-induced lockdowns and whose incomes—and with it, capacity to send remittances to family members—have decreased while the risks of acute food insecurity have increased. 

The Times characterized the recent letter to the Security Council, wherein Lowcock described how "a lack of funding for emergency relief and the complications created by the coronavirus scourge have now pushed some of the world's neediest populations closer to famine conditions," as an escalation of the WFP warning issued by Beasley in April. 

The grim numbers conveyed by U.N. officials and others suggest that not nearly enough has been done between spring and fall to prevent a global humanitarian catastrophe from unfolding. 

In Yemen—the poorest country in the Arab region and "ravaged for more than five years by a civil war between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-backed military coalition"—roughly 80% of the country is "dependent on outside aid," the Times reported. 

On social media, journalist Sarah Lazare took issue with the Times' omission of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, which she argued "has been using starvation as a weapon of war."

The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that "two thirds of people in Yemen have almost nothing to eat. That's over 20 million people."

On Twitter, Beasley shared a WFP video explaining why so many Yemenis are reliant on "food assistance to survive," adding that "we cannot let them face this alone."

In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where decades-long conflicts have been exacerbated this year, 21 million people are suffering from "crisis or worse levels of food insecurity," noted the Times. Prisoners in the country are reportedly already dying from hunger. 

"More than 10 million people—four of five—now require humanitarian assistance and protection" in northeast Nigeria, the Times added. In his letter to the Security Council, Lowcock said more than 1.2 million in the region "remain largely inaccessible to aid agencies due to conflict and deliberate obstruction by nonstate armed groups."

A recent increase in violence, followed by destructive flash floods, in civil war-torn South Sudan has left more than 1.4 million people to endure "crisis or worse levels of food insecurity," the newspaper continued. 

The catastrophic problem is not limited to the areas highlighted in the recent letter. For example, the UN Children's Fund revealed Tuesday that in Burkina Faso, more than 535,000 children under the age of five are contending with acute malnutrition.

Ahead of that revelation, Lazare said Saturday, "I'm really worried about the overlap between countries the U.N. says will be first hit by coronavirus era famines and countries that are already being hit hit hardest by climate crisis." 

"The way the U.S. is responding to these impending famines—utter callousness, making things worse, hyper-nationalism—is an indicator," Lazare added, "of how the U.S. will respond to the far greater climate crisis to come, unless things change dramatically."

In April, Beasley argued, "It is critical we come together as one united global community to defeat this disease, and protect the most vulnerable nations and communities from its potentially devastating effects."

He echoed that sentiment in September, saying, "We must act together, or fall together."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo