New analysis by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) identifies 27 countries that are on the frontline of impending COVID-19-driven food crises, as the pandemic's knock-on effects aggravate pre-existing drivers of hunger.
No world region is immune, from Afghanistan and Bangladesh in Asia, to Haiti, Venezuela and Central America, to Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Syria in the Middle East to Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Liberia Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe in Africa.
The joint analysis by FAO and WFP warns these "hotspot countries" are at high risk of - and in some cases are already seeing - significant food security deteriorations in the coming months, including rising numbers of people pushed into acute hunger.
These countries were already grappling with high levels of food insecurity and acute hunger even before COVID-19, due to pre-existing shocks and stressors such as economic crises, instability and insecurity, climate extremes, and, plant pests and animal diseases, noted FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.
"Now they are on the frontline and bearing the brunt of COVID-19's disruptive effects on food systems, which are fuelling a hunger crisis within a health crisis," he said, adding: "We must not think of this as a risk that will emerge sometime down the line. We cannot treat this as tomorrow's problem. We need to do more to safeguard both food systems and our most vulnerable populations - right now."
Surveyed farmers are reporting numerous challenges in accessing seeds, resulting in reduced planting. In Haiti, 90 percent of interviewees expect to see a significant decrease in cereal production. In Colombia, over half of livestock keepers questioned report difficulties in accessing feed, while in South Sudan, two-thirds of respondents say they are struggling to access animal health support.
In Afghanistan, food price has increased of up to 20 percent, according to today's report, while the pandemic has also caused reduced incomes, disrupted food supply chains, and reduced and access issues to agricultural inputs, fuel and labour.
In Bangladesh, the economic impact of the crisis is poised to double the country's poverty rate, pushing it to over 40 percent.
In Ethiopia, COVID-19-related mitigation measures, in combination with recent flooding and crop losses caused by desert locusts, will likely result in a below-average secondary season Belg harvest gathered in June-July.
In Haiti, COVID-19 impacts come on top of poor and erratic precipitation during the just ended main rainy season, with likely drops in agricultural production and resulting in crop losses -- for another consecutive year.
In Sierra Leone prices of major food commodities have already risen well above their long-term average and a potential reduction in domestic agricultural production, resulting from a below-average rainfall forecast for the coming season, could lead to further food price increases.
In Somalia, COVID-19 challenges, in combination with recent flooding and desert locust impacts, are projected to drive down the output of the main Gu season crops, to be harvested in July, by 20-30 percent. Livestock exports - a massive source of export impact - are already down by 20 percent and another reduction of 30-50 percent is expected due to reduced demand from Saudi Arabia, following the cancellation of the pilgrimage during Ramadan. The number of people in Somalia experiencing acute hunger is projected to triple over last year.
In Yemen, already the world's largest food and humanitarian crisis, a 35 percent increase in food prices has been recorded in some areas since April.
Zimbabwe already endured one of the driest seasons on record, leading to significant cereal deficits for a second year in a row. Now, the economic impact of the pandemic is already observed through further currency depreciation, inflation (with food inflation standing at 953.5 percent as of May 2020, an increase from 685% in January 2020). ■