The head of the World Food Program (WFP) believes that 2021 could see “famines of biblical proportions” as the economic struggles of COVID-19 may hamper global responses to food shortages caused by military conflicts, the rise of Islamic extremism and locust infestations. In an interview with the Christian Post WFP Executive Director David Beasley expressed concern for the funding problems that could be in store for 2021. Despite receiving historic levels of funding and leading the food-assistance branch of the United Nations to a Nobel Peace Prize since he took the helm in April 2017, the 63-year-old Beasley warned the fiscal realities of the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a decrease in funding at a time when as many as 270 million could be pushed to the brink of starvation.
“When I joined the WFP, the number of people on the brink of starvation was 80 million people,” he explained. “There is a technical term for that. It was 80 million “marchings” toward starvation. That number went up to 135 million at the end of 2019 primarily because of man-made conflict, compounded on top of that with climate extremes and destabilized or fragile governments. On top of that COVID comes, and the number we anticipated based upon economic deterioration and because of COVID decisions is now 270 million people that are marching to the brink of starvation.” Last April as governments worldwide were enacting policies to respond to the pandemic, Beasley told the U.N. Security Council that funding shortfalls caused by the pandemic could cause “multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months.”
“I think it could be much bigger depending on how you define biblical proportions,” Beasley said. “2021 is going to be catastrophic unless we receive extraordinary financial support. I made a comment in late 2019 that 2020 was going to be the worst humanitarian year since World War II. Then before 2020 hit, desert locusts came on top of that, and then COVID came into the scene.” “If we did not get the support we needed and certain international actions were not taken, there would be famines of biblical proportions, destabilization and migration,” he added. “The international community responded significantly in 2020. We were able to avert famine last year.” The director stressed that the problem for 2021 lies in the fact that government budgets for 2020 were largely set in 2019 based on strong economic indicators before the pandemic hit.
WFP receives its funding in contributions from world governments as well as individuals. In 2019, it assisted over 97 million people in 88 countries. “With strong economic outlooks, great performance indicators, we had good budgeting,” he said. “That was good news. Then, COVID hits. The wealthy nations passed between $11 and $17 trillion worth economic stimulus packages, to help jumpstart the economy and keep things going without having a major economic depression because of the lockdowns and shutdowns.” Beasley said he was concerned by some of the government decisions made in response to COVID. “Leaders at that time were making decisions about COVID in a vacuum, not understanding the economic ripple effect when you just lock things down, without understanding the supply logistics and all these different dynamics,” he said.
“You cannot make decisions about COVID in a vacuum. We have to work it together and we can minimize death, destabilization and migration.” In November, Beasley met with U.S. White House and State Department officials about the global situation, saying that “there is a lot of bad stuff out there right now.” “In spite of what you might read in the press about the U.S. backing down of its multilateral commitment, as to the World Food Program, the U.S is stepping up in a big way,” Beasley assured. “When you turn on the television or read any news, it appears that the Republicans and Democrats are fighting over anything and everything. But when I come to town and ask to meet, they lay down their differences and their guns and they made peace on this issue. I call it the miracle, because the Republicans and the Democrats came together.”
The former lawmaker said Jesus used food as a “weapon of peace in many contexts.” When Beasley took the job in 2017, the agencies annual budget was about $5.9 billion, with just less than $2 billion coming from the U.S. According to Beasley, the WFP raised over $8.4 billion in 2019, with about $3.5 billion coming from the U.S. “I was also able to get funding from Germany, the U.K. and others,” he said. After assisting nearly 100 million people suffering from food insecurity and hunger in 2019, the WFP was the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to combat hunger and generate better conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas. According to The Nobel Committee, the WFP acts “as a force to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.” Beasley recalled how he was informed the WFP won the Nobel Prize.
“I was in Niger and we had been in the field with extremist groups on all sides. We were working on access issues where they use food as a weapon of recruitment. Somebody came busting in the door and said ‘We won!’ I was like, ‘You got to be kidding me.’” Beasley believes that “we can end hunger” if “we can end wars.” Another major driver of hunger in 2020 has been a record infestation of crop-destroying locusts across several countries in East Africa and the Middle East. “New locust swarms are already forming and threatening to re-invade northern Kenya” while “breeding is also underway on both sides of the Red Sea, posing a new threat to Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, and Yemen.” “There is a lot of work to be done.” Beasley said of the WFP’s locust response. “The locust issue is not resolved and they are now on the move.”
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