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23rd Mar 2023

Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief

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Covid-profiting billionaires and Gulf countries currently enjoying high fuel prices need to do more to end global hunger, says the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The world's global food crisis is set to only get worse with some 345 million people marching towards starvation, compared to 80 million six years ago, said WFP executive director David Beasley on Thursday (30 June).

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"Within that there are 50 million people knocking on famine's door in 45 countries," he said, noting it could also trigger mass migration.

But with a $10bn [€9.6bn] shortfall in WFP funding and Russia's war in Ukraine, the issue of food insecurity is likely to spiral out of control , he warned.

Beasley said immediate action was needed, noting that billionaires during the height of the pandemic had a net worth average increase of $5.2bn per day.

"All we're asking for is to give us one to two days worth of your net worth increase," he said.

Oxfam echoed that, saying billionaires during the pandemic saw their fortunes increase by $820bn.

Among the profiteers were Tesla's Elon Musk, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and Meta's Mark Zuckerberg, among others.

Gulf states

Beasley also pointed at the Gulf states, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"Now with oil prices so high, the Gulf states are not stepping up like they should," he added.

He said they are projected to have almost $1 trillion of reserves due to increased fuel costs, which should be used to fund humanitarian relief in Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

He also expects a major rice shortage next year, on top of the already dwindling supply of wheat produced by Ukraine and blocked in its port city of Odessa by Russia.

Ukraine, for instance, grows enough food to feed 400 million people. Half of that food is no longer available.

"Before Ukraine, we were already facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two," he said.

Fertilisers produced by Russia and Belarus are also an issue set to impact farms in Africa, he said.

The WFP feeds 65 million people inside Africa, a continent whose population is around 1.4 billion.

Smallholder farms in Africa feed around 70 percent of the population, or around 980 million people.

"We're feeding 65 million, we're not feeding the rest," he said.

"And so if the smallholder farms reduce their harvest, you're talking about dozens upon dozens of millions of more people coming into emergency food insecurity," he said.

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