Initial and ongoing assessments by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization strongly indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts are driving up hunger in countries that were already experiencing high levels of food insecurity before the pandemic, FAO said on Tuesday.
"The COVID-19 pandemic poses a clear and present danger to food security and nutrition, especially to the world's most vulnerable communities, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said today at the opening of a high-level UN event on humanitarian action.
Qu told the virtual event that while assessments were taking place at country level as ongoing agricultural seasons unfolded, the impact of COVID-19 was already being seen in some of the world's food crisis hotspots.
Recent data from the FAO-hosted Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) initiative indicates that in Afghanistan, food insecurity -- already alarmingly high -- has now been aggravated by the impact of coronavirus. The latest estimates show that 10.3 million people there are now dealing with crisis levels of acute hunger or worse.
The trend is similar in the Central African Republic, where about 2.4 million people are now facing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity -- an 11 percent increase compared with pre-pandemic times, according to the IPC.
In Somalia, 3.5 million people are projected to face crisis or worse in the coming months - three times the number at the start of the year.
"We risk a looming food crisis unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable, keep the global agricultural supply chains alive, and mitigate the pandemic's impacts across the food system," said Qu.
Rural women are among the most vulnerable and the first to lose their incomes, Qu noted.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 135 million people worldwide were already facing acute hunger caused by conflict, climate shocks, and economic downturns, according to the 2020 edition of the Global Report on Food Crises, produced by FAO, the European Union and 13 other partners.
Another 183 million people were at risk of being pushed into extreme hunger if faced with an additional stress factor.
As part of the revised UN Humanitarian Appeal for COVID-19, FAO has asked for $350 million to support a range of activities aimed at helping poor farmers continue to operate, safeguard food supply chains and markets, and prevent the food sector from being a vector of transmission for the virus.