The American chief of the United Nations' food agency was at a hospital in Yemen when he tried to make a child smile.
"Her little feet were sticking out of the blanket, and I tickled her feet," World Food Program executive director David Beasley told Fox News.
"And it was like tickling a ghost. There was no reaction at all."
Six months after his organization won the Nobel Peace Prize, Beasley – a former Republican governor of South Carolina – is just back from his latest visit to Yemen.
With the country in chaos following six years of war, he describes seeing children wasting away from malnutrition.
"It's literally the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet," he said.
"You've got a nation of about 30 million people and 16 million are literally marching to the brink of starvation. We feed about 13 million. And, quite frankly, we're running out of funds."
With fundraising appeals to governments repeatedly falling short, Beasley is trying a new approach: He is asking the world's richest people to help plug the gap.
Citing a recent Forbes report counting the creation of 493 new billionaires in 2020 – despite the coronavirus pandemic – Beasley argues: "That's a new billionaire every 17 hours. And I've got children dying every seven to 10 seconds. So something's wrong here.
"I definitely support and believe in capitalistic principles, but we have got to do more that the wealthy can channel some of their support, particularly in times when governments are stretched."
The food agency chief said the pandemic has made hunger crises around the world "exponentially worse." The World Food Program counts some 270 million people as being on the brink of starvation.
Beasley points to food insecurity in parts of Latin America as a key factor in surging immigration numbers at the southern U.S. border.
He said of people heading north: "When they don't have peace and they don't have food, they can't feed their children, they go do what any of us would do for our family. You go pack up and go find it somewhere."
He added: "We know for every 1% increase in hunger, there's a 2% increase in migration. So we, in my opinion, can eliminate migration by necessity if we reach and address the root cause.
"It's like you've got waterlines in the ceiling, and they're leaking, and everybody's fighting over where to put the buckets. I'm like, come on, it's time to go fix the leaks!
"Covid has absolutely ripped Latin America, and it's compounded an already fragile atmosphere in several of these countries."
Beasley welcomes his agency's Nobel Peace Prize, but also considers it a portent.
"I think the Nobel Peace Prize committee was sending two very, very clear messages.
"One was: Thank you, World Food Program, for your women and men who put their lives at risk every day.
"And I think the No. 2 message was, 'Your hardest work is coming ahead because of Covid.'"