United Nations World Food Programme chief David Beasley on Thursday said that 34.5 crore persons in 82 countries where the global agency operates, are moving towards starvation. The crisis was a “global emergency of unprecedented magnitude”, he said.

“This is a record high – now more than 2.5 times the number of acutely food insecure people before the [Covid-19] pandemic began,” Beasley said a UN Security Council meeting.

He said it is troubling that five crore of these 34.5 crore persons in 45 countries were suffering from very acute malnutrition and were “knocking on famine’s door”, reported the Associated Press.

“What was a wave of hunger is now a tsunami of hunger,” he said, listing rise in conflicts, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, rising fuel prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as reasons behind the increase in starvation figures.

UN Humanitarian Affairs chief Martin Griffiths said that two lakh residents in Somalia were at the risk of famine – a figure expected to reach three laksh by November – with millions more on the verge of starvation.

In Yemen, more than seven years of armed conflict has left about 1.9 crore residents in acute food insecurity, according to the UN. Around 41 lakh residents in conflict-hit states of Nigeria were facing high levels of acute food insecurity.

Acute food insecurity is when a person is unable to consume adequate food and this puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger, according to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

On conflicts, Griffiths said that a similar pattern recurs in every case in how civilians are killed and injured, families forcibly displaced and work access, while the overall economic decline makes food out of reach for the vulnerable.

“In the most extreme cases, fighting parties have deliberately cut off access to the commercial supplies and essential services that civilians rely on to survive,” he said. “Hunger is used as a tactic of war”.