Millions of people are being pushed towards hunger by the coronavirus pandemic, which could end up killing more people through lack of food than from the illness itself.
Oxfam has warned that, by the end of the year, 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to Covid-19 - potentially 2,000 more than died from Covid-19 each day in April.
The charity says a number of factors will cause an increase in hunger, including mass unemployment, food producers dealing with lockdowns, and difficulties distributing aid.
Their report identifies 10 "hunger hotspots": Yemen, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, West African Sahel, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, and Haiti.
Closed borders, curfews and travel restrictions have disrupted food supplies and incomes in already fragile countries, forcing an extra million people closer to famine in Afghanistan and heightening the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, where two-thirds already live in hunger. Remittances from Yemeni workers abroad had dropped by 80% – $253m (£200m) – in the first four months of 2020 as a result of job losses across the Gulf region. The closure of supply routes has led to food shortages and food price hikes in the country, which imports 90% of its food.
One million more people are facing famine in Afghanistan as a result of coronavirus, according to a report from the charity. The number of people on the brink of famine in the country rose sharply from 2.5 million last September to 3.5 million in May, the result of border closures and the economic downturn in neighbouring Iran that caused a drop in home remittances by overseas workers.
“The knock-on impacts of Covid-19 are far more widespread than the virus itself, pushing millions of the world’s poorest people deeper into hunger and poverty. It is vital governments contain the spread of this deadly disease, but they must also prevent it killing as many – if not more – people from hunger,” said the chief executive of Oxfam GB, Danny Sriskandarajah. “For many people, Covid-19 comes as a crisis on top of a crisis. To break the cycle of hunger, governments must build fairer and more sustainable food systems that ensure small-scale producers and workers earn a living wage.”
Oxfam said countries with existing problems, such as South Sudan and Syria, were already seeing hunger worsen but there was also concern for middle-income countries such as India and Brazil.
Mass unemployment was affecting all countries, but informal labourers were suffering the most, often unable to travel to work. Travel restrictions were also hitting food supplies by preventing farmers from hiring workers and small-scale producers from accessing their own fields.
The UN World Food Programme, which estimates that the number of people facing severe hunger will increase by about 122 million this year as a result of the pandemic, cut food deliveries by almost half in northern Yemen. Oxfam said humanitarian assistance around the world had been curtailed by restrictions on movement and other precautions to prevent the virus spreading.
Oxfam also highlighted a crisis in Africa’s Sahel region, where at least 4 million people have been displaced by extreme climate conditions that were damaging crops, causing greater tension between communities sharing resources.