The number of people on the brink of starvation globally had doubled from 135 million to 270 million due to COVID-19, which has disrupted supply chains around the world, according to the World Food Programme's executive director, David Beasley.
While numbers were already rising sharply due to wars prior to the pandemic, the virus has exacerbated the "hunger pandemic" facing the world.
“We’re struggling now because 700 million people go to bed hungry, 270 million because of COVID are really on the brink of starvation,” Beasley said during an appearance on a virtual panel at the Davos Agenda conference on Wednesday. “Right now the struggles are really in the poor countries but what do you think is going to happen when you don’t have enough food in Brussels or Chicago or Berlin?"
People are beginning to "wake up and step up,” he said. “COVID exacerbated a vulnerable supply chain system and food systems. What leaders are now beginning to recognize… if we don’t receive the support and the funds that we need, you will have mass famine — starvation — you’ll have destabilization of nations, and you’ll have mass migration. The cost of that is a thousands times more.”
The United Nations must lead the way in tackling the looming food crisis, said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who stressed that businesses were crucial to ensuring solutions can reach the scale required. The “collective action” shown by the world during the pandemic showed it had the ability to head off the food shortage, he said.
The economics must make sense for the farmer in order for reforms to the food system to be effective, said Geraldine Matchett, the chief finance officer of Dutch multinational Royal DSM, who appeared alongside Rutte on the panel.
“The farmer needs to earn more when producing food sustainably,” she said. They "need to be better off when they do the right things for the planet.”