Climate change and war are pushing 285 million people towards starvation, David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Programme, said.
Mr Beasley said that if governments and business do not meet the challenge, there would be “political repercussions” as people migrate en masse because food aid is not delivered in their time of need.
Speaking at a food security discussion at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Beasley also said 23 million people in Afghanistan alone are in danger of dying of starvation, and the WFP is looking for the funds needed to feed them.
The number of people around the world at serious risk of dying from starvation has spiked from the pre-coronavirus pandemic figure of 135 million, he said.
He said that “285 million people are marching towards starvation” and urgent action is needed.
“Out of that, there are 45 million knocking on famine’s door in 43 countries. These are people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Conflict and climate change are the two most prominent causes of the crisis.
“We have been telling world leaders for the past four years that there's going to be political repercussions,” he said.
Before the Taliban retook control of the country last August, 80 per cent of Afghanistan's budget came from external aid.
The majority of this assistance was suspended and financial assets of about $10 billion were frozen by foreign governments and institutions after they took power.
Mr Beasley said the aid needed for Afghans alone amounted to about $220 million a month.
“Where am I going to get that money from? Have I got to take it from [food programmes helping] children in Ethiopia, from Yemen, from the Sahel?”
Turning to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the Iran-backed Houthi rebels are engaged in a protracted conflict with government troops, Mr Beasley had an equally dismal outlook for the future.
“I don’t know how you will not have a living hell on earth in Yemen in the next few months,” he said. “It is truly catastrophic and a very complex environment to work in.”
Cindy McCain, US ambassador to the UN agencies in Rome and widow of US senator John McCain, said the world is suffering from a “lack of nimble ability to solve these problems”.
She urged the private sector to step up and commit more funds to helping feed populations at risk of starvation.
“As David said, it is time, we can no longer rely on any government to fund these programmes. This is not just about governments, this is about people to people. I mean, this is survival.”
She suggested tax breaks could be offered to companies as an incentive to encourage them to give more to food programmes.
“It's time to for us to go and say to people, and companies and corporations and foundations, etc, ‘We need you, not only do we need you, we demand you because this issue is too large.’”
She stressed that the WFP could not meet the challenge alone.
“We need so from every walk of life we need involved, like I said, you know, our science and technology, folks, step up, come on.
“I know there's people smarter than us out there to figure this out in terms of you know, science, technology.”