The United Nations has warned that the war in Ukraine has helped to stoke a global food crisis that could last years if it goes unchecked, as the World Bank announced an additional $12bn in funding to mitigate its “devastating effects”.
UN secretary general António Guterres said shortages of grain and fertiliser caused by the war, warming temperatures and pandemic-driven supply problems threaten to “tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity”, as financial markets saw share prices fall heavily again on fears of inflation and a worldwide recession.
Speaking at a UN meeting in New York on global food security, he said what could follow would be “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years”, as he and others urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain exports.
He said he was in “intense contact” with Russia and other countries to try to find a solution.
“The complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill on all sides for a package deal to be reached,” he said of his discussions with Moscow, Ukraine, Turkey, the US, the European Union and others. “I will not go into details because public statements could undermine the chances of success.”
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and international economic sanctions on Russia have disrupted supplies of fertiliser, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel, especially in developing nations. Together the warring nations produce 30% of the world’s wheat.
Before the invasion in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5m tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports – 12% of the planet’s wheat, 15% of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.
But with the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can travel only on congested land routes that are far less efficient.
Prices have skyrocketed. The UN’s food and agricultural price index reached an all-time high of almost 160 points in March before falling 1.2 or 0.8% in April. Cereal and meat price indices also hit record highs in March. A year ago wheat was trading in Chicago at US674c per bushel. Today it fetches US1,242c per bushel in a near-doubling of the price driven and compounded by the lack of supply.
“Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production,” Guterres said. “Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports.”Advertisement
US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who chaired the summit, echoed the call along with World Food Programme head David Beasley. Beasley said: “The world is on fire. We have solutions. We need to act and we need to act now.”