An looming hunger catastrophe will explode over the next two years, risking unprecedented global political pressure, the director of the UN’s World Food Program warned.
Patrick Beasley is calling for short- and long-term reforms, including an urgent lifting of the blockade on 25 million tons of Ukrainian grain trapped by a Russian blockade. years unless solutions are found.
The number of people classified by the UN as “acutely food insecure” before the Covid crisis was 130 million, but after Covid the number rose to 276 million.
Beasley writes a foreword to a new Blair Institute pamphlet on the looming hunger crisis: “This number has risen to 345 million as a result of the crisis in Ukraine. And as many as 50 million people in 45 countries are now just one step away from famine.
“The international community must act to stop this looming hunger catastrophe – otherwise these numbers will explode.
“Global food markets have been in turmoil, with rising prices, export bans and shortages of staple foods spreading far beyond Ukraine’s borders. Nations across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and even Latin America are feeling the heat of this conflict.”
Beasley says threats to global food security have been exacerbated by the turmoil in global fuel and fertilizer markets.
“Without urgent action, food production and crop yields will be reduced. This raises the terrifying possibility that, on top of the current food price crisis, the world will also experience a real food availability crisis in the next 12 to 24 months – and with it the specter of multiple famines.”
Food prices reached a 10-year high in 2022, although there has been a slight easing in the past two months. The crisis has been fueled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the blockade of the Black Sea, which is preventing crucial grain exports.
Tony Blair launched the pamphlet A Global Crisis and told the Guardian that the food crisis affecting poor countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia is “definitely likely to cause serious unrest in the same way it did before the Arab Spring”.
He said: “There is a real risk that not only will this be a problem for this year, but it could be worse next year because of the massive problems next year to get food fertilizers to help the crops succeed.
“This is going to affect millions of people and needs to be put at the center of the G20 in a way that it isn’t now. It is understandable when leaders focus on their own cost of living, but I can tell you from my contacts that this issue is a major concern of African leaders.”
An increasing concern is the lack of fertilizers and their rising price. In 2021, Russia supplied 23% of African fertilizer imports, doubling its share in 2020, leaving Africa dangerously exposed, just as Europe has been exposed through its reliance on Russian gas.
This means, the pamphlet says, “that it is not just Ukraine from which next year’s crop – and much more – will be affected by the Russian invasion. The rising price of fertilizers limits countries’ ability to grow their own agricultural productivity. just as it is critical that they offset a decline in global grain exports.”
The grain crisis is likely to be a major source of conflict at a G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali, the first time Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has collectively confronted his Western adversaries since the crisis began. . The US finally hopes to dig through Russia’s false excuses over the blockade.
But many Eastern European countries are highly skeptical that Vladimir Putin is serious about finding a solution to the Black Sea grain blockade. A foreign minister from Central Europe said: “Putin wants to start a fire in Africa and the Middle East, and he doesn’t care about the consequences. It’s a conscious strategy.”
The minister questioned Putin’s sincerity about a solution to the blockade, pointing out that the UN and Turkey’s efforts to broker a naval convoy had taken a month and had not yet succeeded.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres told G7 leaders more than a week ago that the moment of truth in the mediation had been reached, but there had been no breakthrough. Putin seems willing to lift the blockade of Ukraine’s grain-exporting ports only if broader Russian sanctions are lifted, Boris Johnson said this week.
Poland and other countries are urging the EU to recognize that the blockade cannot be lifted through negotiations or by force and should instead focus on Poland’s export of the grain by train. This requires that the Polish and Baltic ports receive a long-term contract to make the necessary investments.
Official figures on the exact additional impact of Ukraine’s port blockade differ, but UN officials said on Wednesday the conflict will mean an additional 13 million severely malnourished this year and 17 million in 2023. It suggested that if the blockade is not lifted by October, and next harvest, as much as 70 million grains could be held in Ukraine.
The Blair team agrees that lifting the blockade will not only reverse the damage already done to global food security, saying: “This is a crisis that will play out in years, not months.”