File image: Children line up to receive food at a camp for internally displaced people in Yemen. (Photo credit: Reuters)
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of a global food shortage in the coming months due to the conflict in Ukraine at a meeting on global hunger at UN headquarters in New York on 18 May.
Guterres said the conflict “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger, and famine.”
The UN reported that more than 36 countries count on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
Meanwhile, the World Bank announced that it will inject a further 12 billion dollars to help the most vulnerable countries.
“If we don’t feed people, we fuel conflict,” Guterres told a US-convened meeting at the UN to discuss global food security.
In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled, “from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million,” he said.
Severe economic sanctions imposed on the Russian financial system have also made it difficult for many nations to buy fertilizers.
As a result, Guterres is negotiating with Russia, Ukraine, the US, the EU, and Turkey to free up grain and fertilizer exports.
“There is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as food and fertilizers produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets despite the war,” Guterres said.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released on 21 March, the Ukraine crisis has exacerbated hunger across West Asia and has accentuated the need for regional governments to create, expand, or increase social protection systems.
The HRW report highlights that countries already grappling with crisis and widespread food insecurity, such as Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, are particularly at risk.
Price hikes will be acutely felt in Lebanon, as over the past three years, the country has experienced the worst economic crisis of the modern era, with the currency losing over 90 percent of its value and over 80 percent of citizens falling below the poverty line.
The situation in the Levantine nation is already worsening just days after parliamentary elections.
Yemen, which has been the target of a brutal war launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015, is also facing a worsening humanitarian crisis due to the Ukraine conflict.
Skyrocketing food prices in recent years have left more than half the population in need of food assistance, while a Saudi-imposed air and naval blockade prevents the country from receiving UN-authorized shipments of fuel and goods.
On 14 March, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a consortium of UN agencies and humanitarian organizations working in Yemen, warned that the hunger situation is worsening at an alarming rate.