UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United Nations announced Thursday it is increasing its appeal to fight the coronavirus pandemic in fragile and vulnerable countries from $2 billion to $6.7 billion.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock reiterated that the peak of the pandemic is not expected to hit the world's poorest countries for three to six months. But he said there is already evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies falling and prices soaring, and children missing vaccinations and meals.
Since the original appeal on March 25, the United Nations said $1 billion has been raised to support efforts across 37 fragile countries to tackle COVID-19.
The updated appeal launched Thursday includes nine additional vulnerable countries: Benin, Djibouti, Liberia, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe.
Lowcock said "in the poorest countries we can already see economies contracting as export earnings, remittances and tourism disappear."
"Unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty," he warned. "The specter of multiple famines looms."
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said the U.N. food agency helps nearly 100 million people on any given day and "unless we can keep those essential operations going, the health pandemic will soon be followed by a hunger pandemic."
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the caseload in most of the developing countries targeted for assistance in the U.N. appeal "may seem small, but we know that the surveillance, laboratory testing and health systems' capacity in these countries are weak."
"It is therefore likely that there is undetected community transmission happening," he said.
U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi said the impact of the pandemic on people who fled wars and persecution "has been devastating."
He said the needs of refugees, people displaced in their own countries, stateless people and their hosts "are vast but not insurmountable."
"Only collective action to curb the threat of the coronavirus can save lives," Grandi said.
Lowcock, the humanitarian chief, said the COVID-19 pandemic "is unlike anything we have dealt with in our lifetime."
"Extraordinary measures are needed," he said. "As we come together to combat this virus, I urge donors to act in both solidarity and in self-interest and make their response proportionate to the scale of the problem we face."