Global hunger levels are at “a new high”, the UN chief said on Wednesday, in a call for action to tackle the current spike in global food insecurity.
At a ministerial meeting on world hunger taking place at UN headquarters in New York, Secretary General António Guterres said the number of severely food insecure people had doubled in just two years – from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today, including more than half a million in starvation – an increase of more than 500% since 2016.
“These appalling numbers are inextricably linked to conflict, both as cause and effect,” he said. “If we don’t feed people, we feed conflicts”.
The climate emergency is another driver of world hunger, he added, pointing out that 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters over the past decade. .
Additionally, the COVID-induced economic shock has exacerbated food insecurity by reducing incomes and disrupting supply chains, resulting in an uneven economic recovery. Access to financial markets has been restricted, with some developing states now on the brink of default.
“Now the war in Ukraine amplifies and accelerates all of these factors: climate change, COVID-19[feminine]and inequalitysaid Mr. Guterres.
The repercussions of the war in Ukraine
Between them, Ukraine and Russia produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil. Russia and Belarus are the world’s second and third largest producers of potash, a key ingredient in fertilizers.
War threatens to push “tens of millions of people into food insecurity”followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and starvation, in a crisis that could last for years,” the UN chief warned.
“Over the past year, global food prices have risen by almost a third, fertilizer prices by more than half and oil prices by almost two-thirds.”
Meanwhile, most developing countries do not have the fiscal space to cushion the blow of these huge increases with many unable to borrow because markets are closed to them.
“If high fertilizer prices continue, the current grain and cooking oil crisis could affect many other foods, including rice, affecting billions of people in Asia and the Americas,” he said. it detailed.
In addition, children are threatened with a lifetime of stunting; millions of women and children will suffer from malnutrition; girls will be taken out of school and forced to work or marry; and families will embark on dangerous journeys across continents, just to survive.
“High rates of hunger have a devastating impact on individuals, families and societies“said the head of the UN.
“Five Urgent Steps”
However, if we act together, there is enough food for everyone, he said adding that “ending hunger is within our reach”.
The Secretary-General then outlined five urgent measures to resolve the crisis in the short term and prevent long-term damage, starting with reducing market pressure by increasing food supplies – with no restrictions on exports and surpluses available for those who need it the most.
“But let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukrainian food productionas well as food and fertilizers produced by Russia and Belarus, on world markets, despite the war”.
Second, social protection systems must cover all those in need with food, cash; and water, sanitation, nutrition and livelihoods support must be provided.
Fourth, governments must strengthen agricultural production and invest in resilient food systems that protect small-scale food producers.
And finally, humanitarian operations must be fully funded to prevent starvation and reduce hunger.
Act in solidarity
In closing, the UN chief said that the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance monitors the impact of the crisis on vulnerable people, identifying and advocating for solutions.
“The food crisis does not respect borders and no country can overcome it alone,” he said.
“Our only chance to lift millions of people out of hunger is to act together, urgently and in solidarity.”
“Good will” necessary
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired the meeting in which foreign ministers from about 30 countries from various regions discussed actions to ensure global food security, nutrition and resilience.
Describing the current situation as the “greatest global food insecurity crisis of our time”, Mr Blinken attributed the urgency to conflict, drought and natural disasters – compounded by Russia’s war on Ukraine .
Although hopeful, he said “there is still a long way to go” and that “the complex security, economic and financial implications require goodwill from all sides”.
To address the global crisis, the US Secretary announced $215 million in humanitarian aid.
Urgent to open ports
World Food Program (WFP) chef David Beasley has called attention to a world “too fragile” after years of conflict, pandemics and climate threats.
He also noted that current funding shortfalls could hamper access to food for as many as four million people.
Furthermore, the senior WFP official pointed out that a “failure to open ports” within and beyond Ukraine would drive people to the brink of starvation.
Although the “silos are full”, blockades and other obstacles make them inaccessible, Mr Beasley said, urging governments to “step up” now”.