War in Ukraine could plunge millions elsewhere into starvation – OpEd – Eurasia Review

By Kalinga Seneviratne

While images of the devastation of war in Ukraine have saturated news reports around the world, a far graver human catastrophe is unfolding in many other parts of the world and could plunge more than a fifth of humanity back in poverty.

“We have all seen the tragedy unfold in Ukraine: cities destroyed; people suffering and dying in their homes and on the streets; the fastest displacement crisis in Europe since World War II,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in an address to the UN Security Council on April 5.

“But beyond Ukraine’s borders, far beyond the media spotlight, the war has launched a silent assault on the developing world,” he added.

“This crisis could plunge up to 1.7 billion people – more than a fifth of humanity – into poverty, misery and hunger on a scale not seen in decades,” he warned. .

Ukraine and Russia provide 30% of the world’s wheat and barley, a fifth of its corn and 80% of its sunflower oil. Together, their grains feed the poorest and most vulnerable people, providing more than a third of the wheat imported by 45 African and least developed countries. Russia is also the world’s largest fertilizer exporter. Disruptions to supply chains and the impact of sanctions now threaten global food security.

“The war in Ukraine will impact consumers around the world, as the resulting increases in the price of food, energy and fertilizers jeopardize the next global harvest,” said the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Qu Dongyu. warned this month in an address to the 169th session of the FAO Council.

The meeting came as global food prices rose 12.6% in February, hitting a record high in March as grain and vegetable oil prices soared, according to the latest food price index from China. FAO.

This spike in staple food prices “imposes extraordinary costs on global consumers, especially the poorest,” Qu said. Adding that with energy prices rising alongside food prices, “the purchasing power of consumers and vulnerable countries has further diminished.”

Today’s high fertilizer prices, meanwhile, could lead to lower fertilizer use next season and perhaps beyond, with the real prospect of lower food productivity leading to higher food prices and food insecurity for the world’s poor in particular. “This would potentially result in even more undernourished people in 2022 and the months to come,” Qu warned.

Addressing the World Bank’s Spring Meeting in Washington on April 18, the group’s chairman, David Malpass, also sounded the alarm.

“I am deeply concerned about developing countries. They face sudden increases in energy, fertilizer and food prices, and the likelihood of interest rate increases. Everyone is hitting them hard,” he told delegates gathered in the US capital. “These, along with the war in Ukraine and COVID-related shutdowns in China, are pushing global growth rates even lower and poverty rates higher.” Thus, he pointed out that the World Bank lowered its global growth rate to 3.2% against 4.1% previously.

Malpass noted that while the latest food crisis is bad for everyone, it is “devastating for the poorest and most vulnerable”. He put forward two reasons for this, the first being that most of the world’s poorest countries are food-importing countries, while the second being that food purchases account for more than half of their household budgets.

“Global trade still faces quotas, high import tariffs, high export tariffs, costly food price subsidies and even food export bans. These should stop,” warns Malpass. “The international community must immediately scale up emergency assistance to address food insecurity and help strengthen social safety nets.”

The war in Ukraine and the food crisis triggered by the sanctions have been compounded for most developing countries with the high debts they have incurred to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his address, Malpass acknowledged that high debt and deficit levels have put countries in serious financial difficulties. “Sixty percent of low-income countries are already in debt distress or at high risk,” he said.

According to reports from the Washington meeting, the issue of food prices is high on the agenda of the World Bank meeting, as it could trigger serious social unrest around the world.

At the launch of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook report on April 19, its chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas said governments in low-income countries face tight fiscal space to respond, their revenue streams already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic and other shocks. including the Ukrainian crisis. The IMF argues that while social support for people in need is essential right now, it must be targeted.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, in an address to the first European Humanitarian Forum last month, warned that the Ukraine crisis was going to create “a hell of a problem in about six to nine months” because few people realize that Ukraine produces enough food to feed up to 400 million people. “If the agricultural leaders of the world cannot compensate fast enough if the war does not end fast enough, you are going to have extraordinary conditions,” he warned, adding that it would destabilize many nations.

Beasley, in a recent Twitter address to Tesla owner Elon Musk, said billionaires should be asked to contribute a day or two of net worth increases during the COVID-19 pandemic to help solve the problems. of food insecurity, and he also argues that oil- We must say to the producing states of the Persian Gulf: “oil prices are on the rise; you have to step up in a way you’ve never stepped through before”.

“While much of the world has stepped up its solidarity with the people of Ukraine, there are no signs of the same support for the other 1.7 billion potential victims of this war,” laments the head of the UN Guterres. “We have a clear moral duty to support them everywhere,” he said.

António Guterres, in his address to the UN Security Council, called on all countries to keep markets open, resist hoarding and unjustified and unnecessary export restrictions, and make reserves available countries most at risk of hunger and famine. “Now is not the time for protectionism,” he pleads. “There is enough food for every country to get through this crisis if we act together.”

“The only lasting solution to the war in Ukraine and its attacks on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people is peace,” he said in an impassioned appeal to the Security Council.

World Bank chief Malpass agrees. He argues that to give high priority to energy and food production, the global community must enhance security and stability, which “implies a commitment to security and peace.”

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