Over 155 million people faced severe hunger in 2020; situation worse in 2021: UN

Agencies
May 6, 2021

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United Nations, May 6: At least 155 million people faced acute hunger in 2020, including 133,000 who needed urgent food to prevent widespread death from starvation -- and the outlook for 2021 is equally grim or worse, a report by 16 organizations said Wednesday.

The report, which focuses on 55 countries that account for 97% of humanitarian assistance, said the magnitude and severity of food crises last year worsened as a result of protracted conflicts, the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, and weather extremes that exacerbated “pre-existing fragilities.”

The 155 million people faced “crisis," “emergency" or “catastrophe/famine" levels of food needs, an increase of around 20 million people from 2019, it said.

According to the report, two-thirds of the people in those crisis levels were in 10 countries -- Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Haiti. The 133,000 facing starvation, death and destitution were in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen.

“The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance is on the rise,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in the forward to the 307-page Global Report on Food Crises.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century,” he said. “We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.”

Arif Husain, the World Food Program's chief economist, said at a UN news conference for the release of the fifth annual report that the biggest driver of food crises is conflict, which accounted for 99 million people in 23 countries facing a food crisis last year.

“Unless we start finding political solutions to conflicts,” the number of people needing humanitarian assistance will keep increasing, he said.

According to the report, 40.5 million people in 17 countries faced acute food insecurity last year because of “economic shocks” including the fallout from the pandemic.

First and foremost, Husain pointed to declining incomes as a result of the 255 million jobs lost in the pandemic — “four times more than the financial crisis” in 2008. He also expressed concern that the amount of debt taken on by countries large and small to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus “has exploded.”

Dominique Burgeon, director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's office in Geneva, said 60% to 80% of the 155 million people facing acute food insecurity depend on agriculture, but last year FAO was able to assist only about 30%.

The report presented some other grim statistics from 2020: 75.2 million children under 5 years old living in the 55 countries were “stunted” in their growth and 15.8 million were “wasted,” or underweight for their height.

In terms of the prevalence of people facing a crisis, emergency or famine levels of food needs, the report said Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria had more than half their analyzed populations at the crisis level or worse, and five countries -- Afghanistan, Haiti, Lesotho, Yemen and Zimbabwe -- had between 40% and 45% of their populations at those levels.

Looking to 2021, the report said, “food crises are becoming increasingly protracted and the ability to recover from new adverse events is becoming more difficult.”

“Conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic, and large-scale economic crises are expected to extend food-crisis situations in 2021, necessitating continuing large-scale humanitarian assistance,” it said.

The report made forecasts based on 40 of the 55 countries, saying those for the other 15 countries weren't available.

It said over 142 million people in those 40 countries are forecast to face food crises, emergencies or catastrophes this year. Around 155,000 people are likely to face “catastrophe/famine" through mid-2021 — around 108,000 in South Sudan and 47,000 in Yemen, the report said.

WFP's Husain said, for example, that providing one single meal per day for a year for 34 million people would cost about $5 billion, saying that the most critical needs are funding and humanitarian access.

“Without that, we won't be able to save lives,” he said.

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News Network
June 1,2021

The supply of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) under the central quota to Karnataka, to sustain Covid-19 patients on ventilators, has been way less than the demand of 1,200 tonnes daily.

This is despite Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa's letter to the Centre and the Karnataka High Court directive to supply the state's share of oxygen, officials said.

According to the data shared by the authorities, on May 30, the state received half of the requirement — 545.85 tonnes of oxygen with a shortfall of 654.15 tonnes. Besides, it received 791.85 tonnes on May 29, 686 tonnes on May 28, 730 tonnes on May 27, 875.07 tonnes on May 26 and 728 tonnes on May 24.

The eight oxygen-producing units in Karnataka, which are located in different parts of the state, are the major source of medical oxygen though they too are unable to meet the demand.

On May 30, the state manufacturer supplied 425.85 tonnes of oxygen against the target of 830 tonnes daily, 572 tonnes on May 29, 446 tonnes on May 28 and 730 tonnes on May 27.

Apart from the state oxygen-producing units, Karnataka is receiving oxygen from Tata Angul, Jamnagar and Rourkela Steel plant.

During the second wave of Covid-19, which began approximately in the first week of March this year, the daily infections hovered between 40,000 to 50,000.

Due to stringent restrictions from April 27 which will be in effect till June 7, the cases came down drastically. On Monday, the state reported 16,604 fresh infections and 411 fatalities due to Covid-19 whereas there were 3.14 lakh active cases.

However, the demand for oxygen remained high in view of the high number of active cases in the state.

"We still need 1,200 tonnes of oxygen, but we are getting way less than it," an official told PTI requesting anonymity.

According to him, the Chief Minister has written to the Centre to increase the supply of oxygen and the High Court has also ordered the Centre to give Karnataka its share of LMO.

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News Network
June 14,2021

Bengaluru, June 14: Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa today announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to BPL families whose breadwinners succumb to Covid-19. Yediyurappa said this was the first such initiative by any Indian state. 

“Several families are in distress due to the death of earning members. Many families have come on the streets. Keeping this in mind, it has been decided to provide Rs 1 lakh compensation to any BPL family where an adult dies due to Covid-19. This will be given to one member per family,” Yediyurappa told reporters after a meeting with the Finance department, which he heads. 

The CM said this would cost the state exchequer Rs 250-300 crore. “We’re giving this (compensation) for the first time in India. It shows that the financial situation is good and that’s why we’re able to provide this,” he said, adding that this would benefit the families of 25,000-30,000 adults who died due to Covid-19. 

Yediyurappa said the CID will probe the allegations of milk adulteration at the Mandya Milk Union Ltd (Manmul). “A preliminary inquiry has been ordered. A new managing director has been appointed there. Five erring officers have been kept under suspension. In all likelihood, the CID will probe this,” he said. 

The irregularities, amounting to crores of rupees, were being done allegedly with the help of Manmul employees. One lakh litres of adulterated milk were supplied to Manmul every day. The adulterated milk was packed and sold to gullible customers under the Nandini brand name.

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Agencies
June 14,2021

The highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has mutated further to form the ‘Delta plus’ or ‘AY.1’ variant but there is no immediate cause for concern in India as its incidence in the country is still low, scientists said.

The new Delta plus variant has been formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India and one of the drivers of the deadly second wave. Though there is no indication yet of the severity of the disease due to the new variant, Delta plus is resistant to the monoclonal antibody cocktail treatment for Covid-19 recently authorised in India.

“One of the emerging variants is B.1.617.2.1 also known as AY.1 characterized by the acquisition of K417N mutation,” Vinod Scaria, clinician and scientist at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), tweeted on Sunday.  

The mutation, he said, is in the spike protein of SARS-COV-2, which helps the virus enter and infect the human cells.  

According to Public Health England, 63 genomes of Delta (B.1.617.2) with the new K417N mutation have been identified so far on the global science initiative GISAID.  

In its latest report on coronavirus variants, updated till last Friday, the health agency said Delta plus was present in six genomes from India as of June 7.  

“The variant frequency for K417N is not much in India at this point in time. The sequences are mostly from Europe, Asia and America,” Scaria wrote on Twitter.  

The earliest sequence of this genome was found in Europe in late March this year.  

Noting that the travel histories for the variant are not readily available to make assumptions, Scaria said an important point to consider regarding K417N is the “evidence suggesting resistance to monoclonal antibodies Casirivimab and Imdevimab”.

This cocktail recently received emergency-use authorization in the country from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. Drug majors Roche India and Ciplas have priced the antibody cocktail at a steep Rs 59,750 per dose.  

Similar to antibodies which are proteins that the body naturally produces to defend itself against the disease, monoclonal antibodies are artificially created in a lab and tailor-made to fight the disease they treat.  

Casirivimab and Imdevimab are monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, and designed to block the virus' attachment and entry into human cells.  

Scaria also indicated the mutation may be associated with the ability to escape the immune response against the virus.

Allaying fears, immunologist Vineeta Bal noted that while there may be some setback in the use of commercial antibody cocktail due to the new variant, resistance to the therapy is not an indication of higher virulence or severity of a disease.  

“How transmissible this new variant is will be a crucial factor to determine its rapid spread or otherwise,” Bal, guest faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, told PTI.  

She also noted that the quality and quantity of neutralising antibodies, responsible for defending cells from pathogens, generated in the individual infected with the new variant is unlikely to be affected because of the mutation.  

“Thus in individuals catching infection with the new variant, it may not be a matter worth worrying,” she added. 

Pulmonologist and medical researcher Anurag Agrawal concurred.  

“There is no cause of concern due to the new variant in India as of now,” Agrawal, the director of CSIR-IGIB, told PTI.

The scientist said the blood plasma from many fully vaccinated individuals will have to be tested against this variant to determine whether it shows any significant immune escape.  As the Delta variant continues to evolve and acquire new mutations, there is a lot of interest in understanding its evolution. He said SARS-CoV-2 has a nearly constant rate of acquiring genetic variants, and each variant has acquired additional variants in a stepwise fashion.

“Understanding this continued evolution is of great importance in mapping the evolutionary landscape of emerging variants. Largely the virus has tried to optimise for transmission and immune escape by step-wise acquisition of new mutations,” he added 

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