The UN's top food official has urged billionaires and businesses to help save 30 million people around the world who are at risk of dying from hunger this year without aid.
UN World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley said on Thursday that the organization requires $4.9 billion to feed those at risk for one year.
"Worldwide, there are over 2,000 billionaires with a net worth of $8 trillion. In my home country, the USA, there are 12 individuals alone worth $1 trillion," Beasley told a UN Security Council panel on conflict-induced hunger.
"In fact, reports state that three of them made billions upon billions during Covid. I am not opposed to people making money, but humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes."
As the world reeled from the coronavirus crisis, a number of CEOs saw their net worth rise amid a broad market rally, led by the tech sector. As of Friday, according to Forbes real-time data, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remains the world's richest person with a net worth of $177.9 billion. He was reported to have added $13 billion in a single day in July.
In terms of net worth, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are worth $115.4 billion and $93.7 billion, respectively, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk's net worth is estimated at $88.9 billion.
Beasley highlighted that the Covid-19 pandemic had compounded widespread food insecurity caused by years of conflict in Nigeria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen. This, combined with conflict and climate change, meant that "the 270 million people marching toward the brink of starvation need our help more than ever," he said, dubbing 2021 a "make-or-break year."
The WFP is working with more than 50 governments to scale up their safety nets, in an attempt to help 138 million people and avert what Beasley termed a "hunger pandemic."
"We're doing just about all we can do to stop the dam from bursting. But, without the resources we need, a wave of hunger and famine still threatens to sweep across the globe," Beasley said. "And if it does, it will overwhelm nations and communities already weakened by years of conflict and instability."
He told the Security Council that the international community was "all out of excuses" for failing to act, but noted that "governments are strapped" and issued a plea for the private sector to up its efforts.
"It's time for those who have the most to step up, to help those who have the least in this extraordinary time in world history. To show you truly love your neighbour," Beasley said. "The world needs you right now and it's time to do the right thing."
World leaders have committed to ending global hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as part of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Beasley commended the efforts of countries around the world to support their citizens during the pandemic, along with G-20 advanced economies and the IMF for suspending debt repayments for poorer countries.