The following is a transcript of an interview with David Beasley, Executive Director for the UN World Food Programme, that aired Sunday, November 29, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We know worldwide more than a quarter of a billion people are likely to be acutely hungry in 2020, and this crisis is getting worse. The UN’s World Food Program is the world’s largest organization, addressing hunger and promoting food security. And we go now to its executive director, David Beasley. He joins us from Florence, South Carolina. Good morning to you.
DAVID BEASLEY: Good morning to you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That is a staggering estimate in terms of the number of people on the verge of acute hunger. And you say 270 million on the precipice of starvation. How much of this is due to the pandemic?
BEASLEY: Well, quite a bit of it. In fact, about half of that is due to the pandemic. When I joined the World Food Program a few years ago, the number of people that were marching toward the brink of starvation was about 80 million people. But over the past three years pre-COVID, it spiked up to 135 million. And you ask the question why? The primary reason was manmade conflict, compounded with climate extremes and fragile- fragile governments. But since COVID has come in and truly exacerbated every extenuating circumstances we had around the world, the numbers are going from 135 million from one year ago to 270 million people marching to the brink of starvation. This is not people going to bed hungry. This is people really struggling to get their next meal.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You warned recently that the coming year, 2021, could bring famines of biblical proportions. Where specifically are you most concerned?
BEASLEY: Well, there’s about 36 countries now that we feed 30 million people that they depend on us 100 percent. We assist about 100 million people on any given day, week or month right now around the world, we need to move that number up to about 138 million. But there are three dozen countries, and you talk about specifically, let me just hit a few, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Northeast Nigeria, DRC, and I could keep going from country to country to country around the world. In fact- and if we don’t address this, MARGARET, this is what we’re looking at- we’re looking at famines, destabilization and mass migration. And it’s a lot cheaper to come in and prevent it and do it right. You know, if people in the United States are struggling for food, what you imagine is happening in Niger, Burkina Faso or South Sudan.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the US taxpayer is the single largest donor to the UN’s World Food Program. But we are going through a crisis here at home. You just heard how painful it is. What impact do you think that economic strain is going to have on the US ability to give to your organization?
BEASLEY: Well, it’s extremely important. That’s one of the things that I’m talking with leaders around the world, especially the United States, who is our number one donor as well as European leaders. You know, when you go back to the Syrian war, the European leaders did not step in at the right time, at the right place, and they paid a severe price. Syria was a nation of about 20 million people. The cost of supporting the Syrian in Syria is about 50 cents per day. That same Syrian ends up in Berlin or Brussels or London, it is 50 to 100 euros per day. And we know that people don’t want to leave home. But if they don’t have food and they don’t have some degree of peace and stability, they will do what any of us would do for our children. So it’s a lot cheaper to come in and prevent the destabilization than it is to have war and conflict afterwards. And the United States has always been the most generous nation on Earth. And I don’t expect the United States to back down now, because it’s going to be a lot cheaper to come in and do it right and prevent a lot of migration and a lot of destabilization and, in fact, a lot of deaths from hunger. People are dying now, about every five seconds a child dies from hunger. I mean, by the time you and I finish talking, MARGARET, we’re going to have several dozen children have died from hunger.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Before you were a humanitarian, you were a Republican governor in South Carolina. You were a politician. So I know you know the politics in this country right now. And you understand the complaints from President Trump in regard to the US taking on too much of a burden, an outsized responsibility when it comes to solving the world’s problems. How do you respond to that argument now at this time of need in this country?
BEASLEY: Well, one of the things that I have found when it comes to international aid, strategic, effective international aid, I call it the miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue at both ends. You know, when it seems like the Democrats and Republicans, MARGARET, they’re fighting over everything. But when it comes to food aid and stabilizing nations and preventing famine, it’s remarkable to watch the Republicans and the Democrats come together, lay aside their differences and literally do what they can. And it’s been quite a miracle to see. We went from about 1.9 billion when I arrived 3.5 years ago to now about almost four billion dollars from the United States. And so whether you talk about Bush, Obama or Trump and I know Biden will- we will have the support we need from Republicans and Democrats to help the needy people around the world. But this is a–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
BEASLEY: –one time extraordinary crisis. And we’re going to have- actually we’re going to have to ask–
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
BEASLEY: –the billionaires to step up in a way they’ve never done before.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Mr Beasley, thank you for your time. Congratulations to the World Food Program on the Nobel Peace Prize you’re about to receive. We’ll be back in a moment.