More than 11 million people in Latin America are "marching towards the brink of starvation" due to economic conditions exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.N.'s food agency chief David Beasley has warned.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has just been devastating in Latin America, where the economic storm clouds were already gathering," Beasley said in a statement put out by the World Food Program (WFP) on Wednesday following his trip to Ecuador and Panama. "Families are struggling to buy basics like food and medicine, as livelihoods are destroyed and the number of people out of work in the region hits 44 million."
"We have seen a substantial increase in over 11 million people that are marching towards the brink of starvation," he said in a video taken in Ecuador during his trip.
Before he went on the trip, Beasley told CBS News that Latin America is a "ticking time bomb." He underscored that point when he returned, arguing that the WFP needs $328 million in additional funding in order to support relief and recovery operations in the region.
A spokesperson for the WFP, Shaza Moghraby, shared Beasley's concerns, telling CBS News that "The visit confirmed our concerns on the profound impact the pandemic will have on the lives of millions of people and the consequences this may incur on the stability of the region."
Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to have a 269% rise in the number of people with "severe food insecurity" in the coming months, according to an analysis presented this week by the WFP. That means that 16 million people will not know where their next meal is coming from, up from 4.3 million one year ago.
"As coronavirus cases soar, Latin America has become the region most impacted by COVID-19 globally, accounting for over a quarter of the world's cases," the WFP said. "The health pandemic is driving hunger and food insecurity which risks fueling conflict and political unrest and forcing vulnerable families to migrate."
Beasley also warned that the situation will likely be compounded by an active hurricane season.
"You will have political destabilization, mass migration, economic deterioration, supply chain disruption and many people will starve in addition to COVID itself," he said.
"You can't just deal with COVID-19 by itself or hunger by itself," he added. "They must be dealt with together. If we do it right, we can save lives. If we don't do it right, people will die."