The “ghost” of famine

Thursday, 2020-05-21 17:36:40
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Zeinab, 14, sits as she holds her nephew at a camp for internally displaced people from drought-hit areas in Dollow, Somalia. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – The World Bank has warned that the COVID-19 epidemic threatens to push some 60 million people into extreme poverty, wiping out gains made over the past three years. The UN World Food Program (WFP) also warned that the “ghost” of famine is threatening the East and the Horn of Africa. Right now, poor countries need debt relief and increased aid.

The global lending institution is already financing aid programs in 100 countries, under its commitment to spend US$160 billion over the next 15 months, bank president David Malpass said, home to about 70% of the world's population.

Although this is an important milestone, the WB also forecast that world economic growth will drop by 5% this year, of which the poorest countries will be most seriously affected. It is estimated that 60 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty, eradicating achievements gained in hunger eradication and poverty reduction over the past three years.

According to a WFP report titled “the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains, regional trade, markets and food security in East Africa”, the number of hungry citizens in the east and horn of the African region could double overthe next three months as the COVID-19 pandemic combined with climatic shock impact negatively on food production systems.

An estimated 34 to 43 million people (up from 20 million)in the region are at risk of hunger and malnutrition amid socio-economic disruption triggered by the viral respiratory disease. “Without a concerted effort to contain the evolving livelihood and food security crisis, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic could very well turn into a hunger pandemic”, said the report.

The UN agency said that households in urban informal settlements and refugees are likely to bear the brunt of food shortages thanks to the disruption to agricultural value chains triggered by the disease.

Brenda Behan, WFP regional director said that COVID-19 has already disrupted the livelihoods of communities across the greater horn of the African region, and could increase deaths linked to poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in China in late 2019, more than five million people have been infected and over325,000 people have died. To date, international financial institutions, including the WB and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have spent billions of dollars supporting health, economic and social services systems in poor countries.

In particular, the WB has spent US$5.5 billion, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved funds of US$500 million in order to cancel six months of debt payments for 25 of the world’s most impoverished countries so they can tackle the crisis. Finance officials from the Group of 20 major economies also agreed to suspend debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries through the rest of the year.

The above actions have been welcomed and appreciated by world public opinion. However, the international community believes that these efforts are not enough, especially in the context of developing countries needingmore than US$2.5 trillion to contain the spread of the coronavirus and keep the economy afloat, according to the IMF and UN estimates.

Recently, more than 300 lawmakers from around the world called on the IMF and the World Bank to eradicate debt for poor countries around the world,while at the same time increasing the distribution of funds to prevent the global economic crisis.

Experts have called on developing countries to increase bilateral aid for poor countries to fight the “ghost” of famine, while ensuring stable economic recovery. Restoring the flow of tourism, which is a major source of income for developing countries, will be an important step toward rejuvenating the economy. Rescheduling debtand increasing aid are expected to help poor countries have more resources to prevent and fight the disease, thereby reducing hunger and reviving their economies.