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COVID-induced Hunger Could Destabilize Latin America, WFP Warns

FILE - Residents wait outside a house and near a white flag as a sign to ask for food, in a low-income neighborhood during the coronavirus outbreak, in San Salvador, El Salvador, May 14, 2020.

A COVID-19-induced hunger pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean could threaten the stability of countries in the region, the World Food Program said.

Latin America is the region with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, accounting for more than a quarter of the more than 17 million cases reported by Johns Hopkins University. The disease is driving hunger and food insecurity in a region already facing economic, social and political instability, as well as drought and the start of the hurricane season, WFP said.

The agency projects the number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean facing severe food shortages in coming months will rise to 16 million.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley recently visited a farming project run by the WFP in Ibarra, in Ecuador's Imbabura Province.

In a video from the site, Beasley addressed the economic devastation created in Latin American countries by COVID-19. He said many farmers are barely eking out a living because of the pandemic, which is preventing them from selling their crops.

“Just in the areas where WFP [is] in this region alone, we have seen a substantial increase in over 11 million people that are marching toward the brink of starvation," he said. "So, it is devastating, and it is why we must act, and we must act now so that we can bring some hope to people. Otherwise you will have political destabilization, mass migration, economic deterioration, supply chain disruption and many people will starve, in addition to COVID itself.”

The World Food Program said people in Haiti, countries along Central America’s Pacific coast — especially Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — as well as Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are most at risk of starvation and death.

The COVID and hunger pandemics must be tackled together, Beasley said, because they feed upon each other. The WFP is calling for $328 million to provide crucial aid in the region.