The UN food chief has warned that the world is facing “a global emergency of unprecedented scale”.

David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Programme, said the 345 million people facing acute food insecurity in the 82 countries where the agency operates is two and a half times the number of food insecure people. acute food before Covid-19. pandemic hit in 2020.

He told the UN Security Council that it was incredibly disturbing that 50 million of these people in 45 countries were very acutely malnourished and “knocking at the door of starvation”.

“What was a wave of hunger is now a tsunami of hunger,” he said, pointing to rising conflict, the economic ripple effects of the pandemic, climate change, rising fuel prices and the war in Ukraine.

Since Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24, Beasley said, soaring prices for food, fuel and fertilizer have brought 70 million people closer to starvation.

Despite the July agreement allowing the shipment of Ukrainian grain from three Black Sea ports that had been blocked by Russia and continued efforts to bring Russian fertilizers back to world markets, “there is a real risk and dangerous of multiple famines this year,” he added. said.

“And in 2023, the current food price crisis could turn into a food availability crisis if we don’t act.”

The Security Council focused on conflict-induced food insecurity and the risk of famine in Ethiopia, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.

But Mr Beasley and UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths also warned of the food crisis in Somalia, which they both recently visited, and Mr Griffiths also put Afghanistan at the top of the list. listing.

“Famine will happen in Somalia,” Mr Griffiths said, and “be sure that won’t be the only place either.”

He cited recent assessments which identified “hundreds of thousands of people facing catastrophic levels of hunger”, meaning they are at the worst level of “starvation”.

Mr Beasley recalled his warning to the council in April 2020 “that we then faced famine, a famine of biblical proportions”. He said as the world “stepped up its funding and tremendous response, and we averted catastrophe”.

“We are once again on the edge, even worse, and we have to do everything we can – all on deck with every fiber of our bodies,” he said. “The hungry people of the world are counting on us and…we must not let them down.

Mr. Griffiths said widespread and growing food insecurity is the result of the direct and indirect impact of conflict and violence that kills and injures civilians, forces families to flee the lands they depend on for their income and their food, leading to economic decline and rising prices. for food they cannot afford.

After more than seven years of war in Yemen, he said, “some 19 million people – six out of 10 – are acutely food insecure, around 160,000 people face disaster and 538,000 children suffer from severe malnutrition”.

Mr Beasley said the war in Ukraine is fueling inflation in Yemen, which is 90% dependent on food imports.

The World Food Program hopes to help around 18 million people, but its costs have risen 30% this year to $2.6 billion. As a result, it has been forced to downsize, so that Yemenis this month receive only two-thirds of their previous rations, he said.

Mr Beasley said South Sudan faces “its highest rate of acute hunger since gaining independence in 2011” from Sudan.

He said 7.7 million people, more than 60% of the population, are “facing critical or worse levels of food insecurity”.

Without a political solution to the escalating violence and substantial spending on aid programs, “many people in South Sudan will die”, he warned.

In the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of northern Ethiopia, more than 13 million people need lifesaving food, Mr Griffiths said.

In northeast Nigeria, the UN predicts that 4.1 million people face high levels of food insecurity, including 588,000 who faced emergency levels between June and August, said Mr. Griffiths.

He said nearly half of those people could not be reached due to insecurity, and the UN is concerned that “some people are already at disaster level and already dying.”

Mr Griffiths urged the Security Council to “spare no effort” in trying to end these conflicts and increase funding for humanitarian operations, saying the UN appeals in these four countries are all “far below half of the required funding”.