HODEIDA: Children walk past tents at a displaced persons camp in the Khokha district of Yemen’s western province of Hodeida. The world is facing an ‘impending global food emergency’ that could impact hundreds of millions of people as the coronavirus pandemic threatens already strained supply chains, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned yesterday. — AFP

LONDON: Economic shocks caused by the new coronavirus are set to fuel poverty, unrest and instability in heavily-indebted and politically fragile countries for years to come, found an international think-tank yesterday. The pandemic’s impacts will undo years of socio-economic development for some countries, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) said in a briefing released alongside its annual index measuring peace levels around the world. “The worst is still to come,” said Steve Killelea, head of the Australia-based IEP, which expects to see most of the peace indicators it measures fall for several years. “The countries which are going to suffer the most are those which are currently fragile because they are the ones which generally have higher levels of food insecurity, the governments are politically less stable and economies are less robust.”

Lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus have hit economies, with the International Lab our Organization estimating some 200 million would lose their jobs and the World Bank predicting the global economy will shrink by 5% in 2020. Analysts predict it will take five years for world economies to recover back to their 2019 levels, said Killelea. Heavily-indebted countries may struggle to find cash to rebuild their economies after the coronavirus, increasing instability, riots and violence, IEP’s analysis found. Many states are also likely to cut overseas aid which will further stress fragile and conflict-torn countries, such as Liberia, Afghanistan, Burundi and South Sudan, and risks worsening humanitarian crises, it said.

Climate change and natural disasters also pose a growing threat to peace, said the IEP, which found global peacefulness has deteriorated worldwide over the past year. Global peacefulness has declined 2.5% since 2008, found the index, which gives countries a peace score of between 1 and 5, based on 23 indicators measuring levels of conflicts, societal safety and militarization. Vidya Diwakar, a researcher at the Overseas Development Institute think-tank, predicted the impact of the pandemic would be felt beyond fragile states, driving poverty and hunger, which can trigger unrest, in many countries. “With such a crisis of this sort which affects so many dimensions ... there are likely to be long-term impacts,” she said.

N Koreans ‘starving’

Food insecurity in North Korea is deepening and some people are “starving” after it closed the border with China and took other steps against COVID-19, a UN rights expert said Tuesday. The hermetic totalitarian state, which has yet to confirm a single case of the novel coronavirus, introduced a range of other measures to try and prevent an outbreak. Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the country, called for urgent action from Pyongyang and the international community to relieve the suffering. “Lack of food had a devastating impact in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) in the 1990s, and prospects of a further deepening of food shortages and widespread food insecurity are alarming,” he said. Hundreds of thousands are believed to have died during a famine in the mid to late 1990s, a period known as the “Arduous March” in the North. Before the coronavirus crisis, more than 40 percent of people in North Korea were already considered food insecure, with many suffering malnutrition.

‘Irreversible damage’

One in five children under the age of five in the country are stunted, World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a virtual briefing on Tuesday. “Malnutrition on this scale means irreversible damage is being done to hundreds of thousands of children,” she said. The decision five months ago to close the border with China, and putting thousands into isolation, are exacerbating the situation, said Quintana - an independent expert who does not speak on behalf of the UN but who reports his findings to it. North Korea’s trade with China in March and April this year dropped by more than 90 percent, leaving many living in the border areas with no income, he said. “There have been reports of an increase of homeless people in large cities, including kotjebi (street children), and medicine prices have reportedly skyrocketed,” his statement said. “An increasing number of families eat only twice a day, or eat only corn, and some are starving,” it said.

Virus-related alerts

Meanwhile, a new version of Google’s mapping service being rolled out will display pandemic-related transit alerts and let people know when buses or trains might be crowded. Updated versions of the free app for smartphones powered by Apple or Google-backed Android software will also let drivers know about COVID-19 checkpoints or restrictions on their routes. “We’re introducing features to help you easily find important information if you need to venture out, whether it’s by car or public transportation,” Google Maps product management director Ramesh Nagarajan said in a blog post. Alerts about COVID-19 checkpoint notifications are to begin with crossings between the US and Canada or Mexico. When people use Maps for trips by public transit, Google will provide available information regarding whether schedules are limited; masks must be worn, or crowds are expected.

“Having this information before and during your trip is critical for both essential workers who need to safely navigate to work and will become more important for everyone as countries around the world begin to reopen,” Nagarajan said. The transit alerts are rolling out in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Colombia, France, India, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, and the US where information from local transit agencies is available. People using Maps to navigate to medical facilities or COVID-19 testing centers will be shown reminders to verify eligibility and guidelines to avoid being turned away, according to Nagarajan. Alerts for those traveling to medical facilities will be available in Indonesia, Israel, the Philippines, South Korea, and the US starting this week.

“We’re showing these alerts where we’ve received authoritative data from local, state and federal governments or from their websites,” Nagarajan said. “And we are actively working with other agencies around the world to bring even more of this helpful data to users in Google Maps.” Google last year added predictions about public transit crowds to Maps, and early this year marked its 15th anniversary with enhanced details about transit services. “You can easily see the times when a transit station is historically more or less busy to plan your trip accordingly or you can look at live data showing how busy it is right now compared to its usual level of activity,” Nagarajan said. — Agencies