UNITED NATIONS – Global hunger is at an all-time high, with the UN chief saying on Wednesday he was “intensifying contacts” with Russia and other major countries in hopes of allowing an agreement to allow grain stored in Ukrainian ports to be exported and Russian food. Fertilizers have free access to the world market.
But Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a ministerial-level meeting on the growing food security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine that “there is still a long way to go.”
“The goodwill of all parties is required to reach a package agreement for complex security, economic and financial implications,” he said. “I will not go into detail because public statements can reduce the chances of success.”
Guterres said global hunger levels were at “new heights”, with the number of people facing severe food insecurity doubling from 135 million before the epidemic to 276 million today. He said more than 500,000 people are living in famine – more than 500% since 2016.
He said Ukraine and Russia together produce about one-third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, while Russia and its ally Belarus are the world’s second and third largest potash producers, a major component of the fertilizer.
“Despite the war, there is no effective solution to the food crisis without re-integrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into the world market,” he said.
The Secretary-General says Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine is “increasing and accelerating” the drivers of food insecurity and global hunger – climate change, COVID-19 and inequality.
The conflict has closed Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, shutting down food exports to many developing countries, and Guterres says that during his recent trip to the Sahel region of Africa, he met families who did not know where their next meal was coming from.
David Bisle, head of the UN World Food Program, warned that “failure to open ports would lead to a declaration of war on global food security, leading to famine and instability in countries, as well as massive migration if necessary.”
“It’s not just about Ukraine,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. So I’m telling (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin, if you have a heart, please open these ports … so that we can feed the very poor and avoid famine, as we have done in the past, when the countries of this chamber together Moved forward. “
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who chaired the meeting called by the United States, said the world was facing “the biggest global food security crisis of our time”.
Blinken said that between 2016 and 2021, the number of people living in acute food insecurity – where their inability to eat adequate food put their lives or livelihoods in “immediate danger” – skyrocketed from 108 million to 161 million.
He called on top US diplomats to make significant new contributions to humanitarian agencies and organizations fighting food insecurity, and urged countries with significant grain and fertilizer reserves to step up.
“Governments and international organizations can work together to force the Russian Federation to create a corridor so that food and other vital supplies can safely leave Ukraine by land or sea,” Blinken said. “At the moment Ukraine has an estimated 22 million tons of grain sitting on the silo, food that could immediately go to the aid of the needy if it could only go out of the country.”