In this photo taken Tuesday, March 26, 2019, children push their plates out to receive a portion of cooked grains during a…
FILE - Children push their plates out to receive a portion of cooked grains during a lunchtime feeding program launched by UNICEF and the World Food Program in in Aweil, Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, South Sudan, March 26, 2019.

GENEVA - The World Food Program says many countries affected by conflict, COVID-19 and climate change are experiencing record levels of hunger, threatening the lives of thousands of people.

WFP officials say they fear many more people will die from hunger due to the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the pandemic itself. The pandemic has infected more than 30 million people around the world, and nearly 1 million have died.

The agency warns that many people in countries of conflict are on the brink of starvation because lockdown measures aimed at curbing the coronavirus have destroyed jobs and livelihoods. For example, the WFP says nearly 22 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are expected to face a hunger crisis because of increased violence coupled with COVID-19.

WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri says years of conflict-induced hunger in Yemen makes the country of more than 30 million particularly vulnerable to sickness and death from the pandemic.

“Some 20 million people are severely food insecure due to war, a collapsed economy and currency devaluation, crippling food prices and the destruction of public infrastructure," Phiri said. "We believe a further 3 million may now face starvation due to the virus.”

South Sudan in peril

Phiri was until recently the WFP spokesman in South Sudan and says he is very concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on a population there that has been weakened by years of relentless violence.

“South Sudan was already on its knees even before the emergence of COVID-19; 6.5 million people were expected to face severe food insecurity at the peak of the hunger season in July. ... We all thought we were on the path to peace in South Sudan," he said. "And then, bang, we now have violence, renewed violence, more atrocities in Jonglei State.”

It is the peak of the rainy season right now. Phiri says Jonglei State is drowning in floodwaters, economic challenges, conflict and COVID-19. He says millions of people in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and other countries are also facing crisis levels of COVID-induced hunger.  Many, he warns, will die because they will be unable to put food on their tables.

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