ccording to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity due to the economic collapse of COVID-19 could double to 265 million this year.

The impact of lost travel revenue, remittances and travel and other restrictions on the coronary virus epidemic is expected to cause another 130 million people to starve this year.

“COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said Arif Husain, chief economist and director of research, assessment and monitoring at the WFP.

“We all need to come together to deal with this because if we don’t the cost will be too high – the global cost will be too high: many lost lives and many, many more lost livelihoods,” he told reporters at a virtual briefing in Geneva.

Husain said it was critical to act quickly to prevent people already living hand-to-mouth from selling their assets as it could take them years to become self-reliant again.

UNICEF: Two million children in DRC are acutely malnourished (02:39)
In some cases, such as when farmers sell their ploughs or oxen, it could have knock-on effects for food production for years to come, he added.

“These were the people we were concerned about – those who were OK before COVID and now they are not,” he said, adding he was “really worried” about people living in countries with little or no government safety nets.

“Acute food and livelihood crisis” is category three of five UN phases, meaning a “critical lack of food access and above usual malnutrition”.

Category 5 means mass starvation. UN officials did not give a geographical breakdown of the growing needs but said that Africa was likely to be hardest hit.

The WFP expects to need $10-$12bn to fund its assistance programmes this year compared to a record $8.3bn raised last year, Husain added. It plans to pre-position food stocks over the coming months in anticipation of growing needs.