Air Force, United Nations Food Agency Tackle Rising COVID-19 Famine in Latin America


The head of the United Nations World Food Program says the COVID-19 crisis has dramatically increased the number of hungry people in Latin America, which could trigger an exodus of refugees to North America if it is not processed.David Beasley, the agency’s executive director, issued the warning as the Royal Canadian Air Force began preparations on Saturday to end its nearly two-week mission in which a mammoth C-17 Globemaster from transport crisscrossed Central and South America and the Caribbean, delivering tons of medical supplies. Provisions.

Beasley said there had been a 269% increase in food insecurity in the region since the start of the pandemic.

He told The Canadian Press that 4.7 million people were “already on the verge of famine” before the pandemic, but that number has now risen to 16 million.

Beasley praised Canada for loaning the Globemaster and nearly three dozen staff to work in tandem with WFP and the World Health Organization to deliver supplies throughout the region from a newly built center in Panama .

However, he said, unless the world responds to the biggest humanitarian crisis in the history of the World Food Program, people will die and economic and political upheaval will ensue.

Food insecurity is increasing around the world

The agency is appealing for US $ 4.9 billion over six months to help feed 138 million people in 83 countries. Since the start of the pandemic, food insecurity has increased dramatically in West and Central Africa (135%) and in Southern Africa (90%).

Beasley said tackling the problem would also mean spending hundreds of millions of dollars more to tackle growing hunger in the backyard of Canada’s Western Hemisphere.

“The first thing is: let’s do what’s right; let’s do what’s right. And if that’s not enough, do it in your national security interest, ”Beasley said in an interview.

“If the patterns of experience are telling, if the economic deterioration from COVID continues as it is and we don’t have safety net programs in place, I don’t see how you don’t have migration massive”. he said.

“You won’t have mass migration today, tomorrow, but you will have it soon. “

This is why the international community must mobilize. Otherwise, there will be chaos.– David Beasley, Director of the United Nations World Food Program.

The region was already struggling under the weight of Venezuela’s political and economic crisis. Before the pandemic, the United Nations estimated that six million Venezuelans would flee their country by the end of the year, due to the collapse of its economic, health and education systems. Neighboring countries such as Colombia, Peru and Ecuador were the most affected by the influx.

While these countries have been welcoming, COVID-19 has added an extra layer of tension, and Beasley said leaders in those countries told him last week that they were extremely concerned.

“This is why the international community must mobilize. Otherwise, there will be chaos, ”he said.

“And we have a vaccine against this chaos – it’s called food. “

Canadian mission comes to an end

The former Republican governor of South Carolina visited Ottawa in mid-March, meeting with several Canadian politicians just before the pandemic put an end to normal activities. Beasley himself reportedly tested positive for COVID 19 days later, sparking a short-lived panic and a wave of testing among MPs and officials he saw. He has since recovered.

Beasley was in Panama last week as part of a six-country tour, where he met the Lt. Col. Adam Pentney, Commander of Canada’s Military Airlift. He also met the Pentney crew as they loaded tons of personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and other humanitarian supplies onto the Globemaster.

“This C-17 is a workaholic and it’s a blessing at a time when we need it most. As you can imagine, we are extremely grateful to the Canadian government for providing this support, ”said Beasley.

“It was a magnificent spectacle. It was absolutely magnificent because it is humanitarian support that saves lives. It shows what happens when the world collaborates. ”

Pentney said the C-17 mission was the first time he had participated in such a large humanitarian relief effort so close to his home.

“This is in an area that we don’t visit often,” Pentney said on a phone call from Panama last week, where he was preparing to pilot the final Globemaster mission himself.

Friday’s mission to Guatemala was to be the last before preparations for the weekend began to bring the plane and the 31 people supporting it back to Canada.

“My message to Canadians is that they can be very proud of the support provided to them and the work that is done to care for our global neighbors,” said Pentney.

“The pandemic is very real here. Canada has a role and a presence here, in our backyard, and we are happy to be able to contribute.

Venezuelan migrants receive free meals from a Spanish NGO in Lima, Peru, in March. The United Nations has said Venezuela may be one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus due to widespread shortages of medical supplies and lack of water and electricity. (Rodrigo Abd / The Associated Press)

Pentney said he was unsure if another Globemaster crew would return. But Beasley said he is stepping up fundraising efforts to target another group of donors, as governments around the world are already strapped for the pandemic.

“We are in the worst crisis since World War II, and it’s time for billionaires to step in and say, ‘We care about humanity, we care about planet Earth’ because we are crossroads on this planet right now ”. Beasley said.

“Billionaires, especially those making billions from COVID, they need to step up. We take about millions of people dying. “


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