By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2022 – The Russian invasion of Ukraine last February has triggered multiple crises in several fronts: the deaths of thousands of civilians, the destruction of heavily populated cities, the rise in military spending in Europe, a projected decline in development assistance to the world’s poorer nations; the demolition of schools and health-care facilities — and now the threat of hunger and starvation.
David Beasley, executive director of the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP), said last week: “Right now, Ukraine’s grain silos are full,” while “44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation.”
“The bullets and bombs in Ukraine could take the global hunger crisis to levels beyond anything we’ve seen before,” Beasley warned during a visit to the Polish-Ukrainian border.
“The world demands it because hundreds of millions of people globally depend on these supplies. We’re running out of time and the cost of inaction will be higher than anyone can imagine. I urge all parties involved to allow this food to get out of Ukraine to where it’s desperately needed so we can avert the looming threat of famine”.
Beasley warned that unless the ports are reopened, Ukrainian farmers will have nowhere to store the next harvest in July/August. The result will be mountains of grain going to waste while WFP and the world struggle to deal with an already catastrophic global hunger crisis.
A leading producer of grain, Ukraine had about 14 million tons in storage and available for export. But Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea ports has brought shipments to a standstill. More grain is stranded on ships unable to move because of the conflict.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters May 3 the United States chaired a Security Council meeting last March focusing on the link between armed conflict and food security.
“Once again, we will bring a spotlight to the conflict as a driver of food insecurity.”
The US, which is holding the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, has scheduled an open debate on May 19 to examine “the nexus between conflict and food security.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to preside over the meeting in-person.
Danielle Nierenberg, President, Food Tank, told IPS Russia’s war against Ukraine and their war crimes will have consequences that will last for decades. Yields of staple crops were already down in many parts of the world because of the impacts of the climate crisis and other conflicts.
“The war will only exacerbate the many crises the world is now facing—the biodiversity loss crisis, the health crisis, and the climate crisis”.
“And because Ukraine and Russia provided so much food—and cooking oils and fertilizer—to other parts of the world, including the Global South, there will be a massive hunger crisis,” she warned.
There is a chance that the war will accelerate a transition to more regenerative and local and regional food systems which was needed before the war. But in the meantime, there will be a a lot of suffering. Governments, NGOs, businesses, and other stakeholders will need to take action now to prevent a food crisis, Nierenberg said.
At a press conference in Vienna May 11, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: ” I have been in intense contact with the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Turkey, and several other key countries, in order to try to address seriously the problems of food security”.
“But once again, I do not intend to make public any of the initiatives I am having until they produce a result, because if this becomes something to be discussed, globally, I am sure that we will not be able to achieve anything,” he said.
WFP’s analysis has found that 276 million people worldwide were already facing acute hunger at the start of 2022. That number is expected to rise by 44 million people if the conflict in Ukraine continues, with the steepest rises in sub-Saharan Africa.
Daniel Bradlow, Professor of International Development Law and African Economic Relations in the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, told IPS the war in Ukraine will have a devastating impact in Africa because many African countries import food and fertilizer from Russia and Ukraine.
Therefore, the war will lead to increase in food and fertilizer prices as well as shortages of food and fertilizer. The impact of the war will come on top of extreme weather events– droughts, floods– in various parts of the continent that will also have adverse impacts on food prices and supplies.
“Thus. it is likely that there will be increases in the number of people going hungry across the continent which will have tragic impacts on the development and wellbeing of children”.
The only silver lining in this terrible situation is that it might lead to people across the continent increasing their reliance on more indigenous crops such as cassava, he noted.
Hanna Saarinen, Oxfam’s Policy Advisor on Food, Agriculture and Land, told IPS global hunger is soaring with the war in Ukraine seeing food prices skyrocket.
“This is catastrophic for people living in countries highly dependent on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. Countries like Yemen and Syria in the Middle East and Somalia and South Sudan in Africa where we are seeing people pushed beyond the brink of hunger,” she said.
The reason is a broken global food system, one that is unable to withstand crises and one that is built on inequality. Many poorer countries are unable – and are too often made unable – to produce enough food to feed their people. They must rely on food imports. This dependency is dangerous, she added.
“Countries should refrain from using food export bans. They just do more harm. Countries should ensure that food can move quickly from one country to another”.
“We need a food system that works for everybody. One that can stand against shocks such as rapid food inflation and one that is built on local small-scale family farming” she declared.
IPS UN Bureau Report