The social and economic consequences of policies purportedly adopted to stop the spread of coronavirus could actually be far more deadly than the actual disease, the head of the UN’s hunger-fighting body has cautioned.

Thirty million people are at risk of perishing if the World Food Program (WFP) doesn’t receive more funding, the agency’s chief, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council. So far this year the WFP has provided aid to 85 million people, but the coronavirus pandemic has strained resources and created a greater need for assistance, he said. $4.9 billion will be needed to ensure that the tens of millions of people completely dependent on UN aid to survive do not die. He called on the world’s billionaires, many of whom have seen enormous profits during the pandemic, to help prevent mass starvation. 

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“We’re doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe,” noted Beasley. Much of his agency’s work focuses on providing relief to civilians in warzones such as Yemen, but the restrictions imposed worldwide to combat Covid-19 have further exacerbated these humanitarian crises, he said. “Sensible measures” allegedly implemented to stop the spread of the virus must not interfere with supply chains and trade, and nations must “guard against unintended consequences” of their coronavirus policies, cautioning that they could “hit poor people the hardest.”

Covid-19 restrictions could be particularly devastating for Africa. Beasley cited a study which estimated that for every coronavirus death prevented, as many as 80 children may die due to a lack of routine immunizations.

There is a grave danger that many more people will die from the broader economic and social consequences of Covid-19 than from the virus itself, especially in Africa. And the last thing we need is to have the cure be worse than the disease itself.

Beasley isn’t the first UN official to raise alarm over the consequences of lockdowns and other Covid-19 measures. In July, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that “the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself.” A study published in The Lancet found that the impact of lockdowns and other pandemic mitigation measures could lead to 10,000 additional deaths among children each month. 

The WFP chief grabbed headlines in August after he declared that the world is facing a famine of “biblical proportions,” predicting that hunger will likely affect those who didn’t experience it before.

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