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14 Million People In Latin America, Caribbean At Risk Of Hunger, U.N. Report Says

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Photo by Carlos Mamani AFP via Getty Images

People in the Andean city of Puno, Peru, lined up earlier this month to withdraw funds from their pensions. The World Food Programme says the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean could quadruple.

The coronavirus pandemic has put nearly 14 million people in the Caribbean and Latin America at risk of missing meals, according to a report released Wednesday from the U.N.'s World Food Programme.

The virus has spread quickly in the region in recent weeks, with Latin America surpassing Europe and the United States in its daily numbers of new coronavirus cases reported.

The Americas have become the "epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic," the Pan American Health Organization said earlier this week.

Health officials have even warned of a potential humanitarian crisis in Haiti due to a rising number of cases.

Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, now has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world.

The White House recently restricted travel from Brazil into the United States. The country's health minister resigned from his post earlier this month amid disagreements with the president on how to handle the crisis.

Financial hardship is increasing throughout the region, including in Colombia. As John Otis reported for NPR, residents in a slum near Bogotá are hanging red cloth from their homes to signal to neighbors that they need food.

The WFP estimates that the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity in the region will increase from 3.4 million to 13.7 million over the course of 2020.

This is likely to hit those who rely on daily earnings in the informal sector hardest. The report points out that in Bolivia, that group comprises about 60% of the population.

The region's economy is expected to contract by 5.3% this year, according to a recent report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

A WFP survey of nine countries in the region showed that around 69% of people in the region have seen a drop in their income because of the pandemic. Roughly the same number said they are worried about not having enough food.

The impact in urban areas is expected to be particularly brutal. Seventeen percent of respondents in urban areas said they were having one meal per day or less.

In Haiti alone, the WFP says in its report that the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity could more than double — rising from 700,000 to 1.6 million. And hurricane season is just around the corner.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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