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Global Health
October 20, 2020

Pandemic Accelerates the Threat of Global Hunger

JAMA. 2020;324(15):1489. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.20152

Acute hunger is expected to affect 270 million people worldwide by this year’s end—an 82% increase since the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic began, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Severe food insecurity rose 70% in the 4 years leading up to the pandemic, according to the WFP. But now the economic fallout from pandemic-related job loss in cities in low- and middle-income countries and less money being sent home by relatives working in wealthier countries have compounded an already bleak situation.

In Latin America, which WFP said is the hardest hit region, the pandemic’s effects have led to a 3-fold increase in the number of people seeking food assistance. Food insecurity is up by 135% in West and Central Africa and by 90% in southern Africa.

In response, the WFP is working to boost the number of people it reaches with food assistance to 138 million this year from 97 million in 2019. To support the effort, the organization is seeking $4.9 billion from donors over the next 6 months. To help local economies, more than half of the relief from WFP will be delivered in cash and vouchers.

“The frontline in the battle against the coronavirus is shifting from the rich world to the poor world,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley, JD, said in a statement. “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos. Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict and widespread under-nutrition among populations that were previously immune from hunger.”

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