“When war is waged, people go hungry”, said António Guterres, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, noting that 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict. In 2021, most of the 140 million people suffering acute hunger lived in just 10 countries: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. “When this Council debates conflict, you debate hunger,” he stressed. “And when you fail to reach consensus, hungry people pay a high price.” (UN Press Release, May 19, 2022)
|A Ukrainian farmer, from "How Russia’s war in Ukraine upended the breadbasket of Europe"|
Food scarcity has been increasing drastically as the war in Ukraine reduces production and distribution of grain and cooking oil from the war-torn region. Russian troops have targeted farms, warehouses, and shipping channels, threatening famine in a number of countries that rely on Ukrainian supplies of grain and oil. Ukrainian farmers who should be planting crops cannot do so as buildings, equipment, and fields have been destroyed by military action. Hunger is a major problem for the Ukrainians, whose homes have been destroyed and whose lives are totally disrupted. Because Ukraine is a major exporter, the war also threatens millions of people in other countries with starvation.
At the economic summit in Davos this week, the European Commission president pointed out that Russia is intentionally destroying Ukrainian ability to supply grain and cooking oil to many countries, which depend on these supplies. Essential shipments of grain from Russia have also been disrupted, further contributing to the looming catastrophe.
Earlier this week, statements by UN representatives and by the head of the European Commission have highlighted the crisis, which has sent prices soaring in many places, and is already causing famine. Some quotes from the last few days:
- "The head of the United Nations has said there is a looming global food crisis because of the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine." (Sky News)
- "The world’s food distribution network was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions, and exports from Ukraine, ordinarily among the world’s biggest suppliers, have plummeted because of the war. Russia has seized some the country’s Black Sea ports and blockaded the rest, trapping cargo vessels laden with corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats." (New York Times)
- "In Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the number of people facing extreme hunger has more than doubled since last year, from roughly 10 million to more than 23 million today... . Across the three countries, the report notes, one person is likely dying every 48 seconds from acute hunger-related causes stemming from armed conflict, COVID-19, climate change and inflationary pressures worsened by the war in Ukraine." (NPR News)
- In Iran last week public protests and violence were a reaction when, "prices for cooking oil quadrupled and for chicken and eggs doubled. The price of flat bread increased fivefold this month, and that of baguettes and sandwich rolls as much as tenfold." (New York Times)
- India, the world's second biggest producer of wheat after China, banned export of grain on May 16. The impact will be widespread:
- "In the 12 months to March, India cashed in on soaring global prices, exporting a record 7 million metric tons of the grain. That was up more than 250% on the previous year's volumes. It had also set record export targets for the coming year." (CNN)
- "Top destinations for Indian exports included Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal and Turkey, and top global buyer Egypt recently agreed to make a first ever purchase of Indian wheat as Cairo tried to replace lost shipments from the Black Sea." (Reuters)
- "The World Food Programme estimates about 49 million people face emergency levels of hunger. About 811 million go to bed hungry each night. The number of people on the brink of starvation across Africa’s Sahel region, for example, is at least 10 times higher than in pre-Covid 2019." (The Guardian)
I feel totally helpless as I watch the news of this global disaster. I know how lucky I am to live in a prosperous country that produces its own food. Americans are experiencing price increases in most food products as well as other commodities, but we don't face the same fate as the Africans and other people facing these shortages.
Blog post © 2022 mae sander.