Tuesday, January 19

Covid billionaires should help starving people, says head of charity | Philanthropy

Billionaires whose wealth has soared during the coronavirus pandemic should act to provide emergency aid to record numbers of people facing starvation, said the director of a US charity that supports the World Food Program.

The pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have contributed to a sharp increase in the number of people on the brink of starvation around the world. WFP, the UN agency that provides emergency aid, was needed for 138 million people last year, up from 100 million in 2019.

That number is expected to rise again this year, to about 235 million people “marching into hunger,” according to Barron Segar, president and CEO of the US World Food Program. largest humanitarian aid in history ”.

But the funds available to WFP are not increasing at the same rate, and Segar estimates that the deficit will reach around $ 5bn (£ 3.7bn) this year.

“Imagine that a person stands up and says they have heard the call, they will donate $ 5 billion,” he told The Guardian. “We are trying to unblock the private sector. There are more billionaires in the US than ever before, and many billionaires are succeeding thanks to Covid. “

He warned that despite the distribution of vaccines, the pandemic and economic crisis showed no signs of releasing his control over the world. “Things are going to get worse,” he said. “My crystal ball looks very gloomy. More people will die not from Covid, but from the economic consequences of Covid. “

People in some of the countries hardest hit by hunger, including Afghanistan, Yemen and Burkina Faso, have suffered less from the virus itself than from indirect impacts. For example, as developed economies around the world have taken an economic hit, the diaspora in these countries that would normally send remittances home have had less money to do so. Added to that are problems getting governments with budget deficits to commit more financial aid, and greater difficulties in reaching people in remote areas due to travel restrictions imposed by Covid.

These problems are in addition to conflicts and natural disasters such as locust swarms in East Africa, as well as long-term difficulties, such as worsening weather conditions, which have combined to bring people to the brink of starvation. .

Last year’s efforts, when WFP reached 97 million people in the first nine months, were “wonderful news,” Segar said, but he cautioned that “we have only postponed the disaster.”

Fresh barron
Barron Segar declined to name the individual billionaires who should contribute to the aid funding. Photograph: David Buchan / REX / Shutterstock

The World Food Program, which was established in 1961, received the Nobel Peace Prize last year in recognition of its decades of work to alleviate hunger. In its summons, the Nobel committee said: “The world is in danger of experiencing a hunger crisis of inconceivable proportions if the World Food Program and other food assistance organizations do not receive the financial support they have requested.”

Segar said he was taking the unprecedented step of asking an individual billionaire, or a small number of donors, to come forward because he saw no other prospects of filling the funding gap. “Hunger can be solved,” he said. “This can be solved with the significant support of people with ultra-high net worth.”

Segar declined to name any individual billionaire, but several of the world’s richest people have seen their fortunes skyrocket with the impacts of the virus and lockdowns around the world. Amazon has benefited from the massive increase in online shopping, while the use of Facebook and Twitter has exploded as people spend more time online and work from home. Shares in Elon Musk’s electric car company Tesla have risen in value as mainstream automakers and oil companies have suffered. Musk has now surpassed Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as the richest person in the world.

The Financial Times newspaper recently identified 100 companies that have enjoyed growing fortunes during the pandemic, including Apple, Microsoft, PayPal and Visa in the top 15 by market capitalization. Stock markets hit new highs late last year, despite the pandemic, when governments poured money into propping up the global economy.

While some billionaires, like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, have resolved to devote most of their vast fortunes to philanthropy, most seem reluctant to link their growing wealth to wealth. pandemic.

Several companies contacted by The Guardian declined to say whether their billionaire founders would respond to Segar’s call, but pointed to the philanthropic work they have done.

Google said it had provided $ 800 million to small businesses, as well as $ 100 million for Covid relief from its philanthropy arm, Google.org. Amazon noted Bezos’ donation of $ 100 million last year to Feeding America, and his 2018 launch of the $ 2 billion Day One Fund, focused on homelessness and early childhood education.

The United States provides much of the funding to WFP, and under President-elect Joe Biden it may show greater interest in its programs. The UK slashed its foreign aid last year, much to the dismay of many development experts.

Last year, WFP Executive Director David Beasley warned the Guardian of a “famine of biblical proportions” due to natural disasters and conflict, compounded by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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