The war in Ukraine exacerbates hunger in the poorest countries | International

Russia’s war against Ukraine has intensified hunger in the world, according to reports from the World Food Program (WFP), a UN organization. Dependence on supplies such as Russian wheat and Ukrainian sunflower oil have had a severe impact on food aid in countries such as Yemen, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Syria, which were already experiencing the worst levels of starvation. The WFP collects cases of cancellations and delays in food shipments from the port of the Ukrainian city of Odessa, a target of the Russian Army. In addition, a report from the agency anticipates that the conflict will increase the budget needed for WFP operations by 29 million dollars (about 26 million euros) a month, in the midst of a funding crisis. The program had been forced to cut aid in several countries earlier this year.

The increase in the price of oil caused by the war, which has a direct impact on the price of fuel, also complicates the logistics of the program. “We have truckloads of food stopped in northern Ethiopia. Armed violence and lack of fuel have prevented us from delivering aid,” says Brian Lander, deputy director of the WFP Emergency Operations Division. According to a report by the organization published in February, more than 400,000 people in the conflict region of Tigray are facing a food catastrophe (the worst level in the classification made by the WFP to measure the magnitude of emergencies).

According to the organization, 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of corn are frozen in Russia and Ukraine due to the closure of ports and the stagnation of the Russian grain business, due to economic sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine. The costs of shipping food have also multiplied and include war risk insurance premium payments of up to 271,000 euros each way.

Yemen, which was already dragging a severe humanitarian crisis, will be the most affected by this conflict in terms of food assistance. The food rations of the 13 million people served by the program depend heavily on shipments that are stalled. The lack of Russian cereals raises the costs of the WFP, which was already facing a budget deficit of 900 million dollars (about 816 million euros) in the country. The program had already had to make gradual cuts in aid. Eight million people who previously received a monthly food basket in Yemen now have to make do with a delivery every two months. The situation is repeated in countries such as Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan – which are also facing active conflicts -, in which the rise in the price of food and fuel will continue to worsen humanitarian crises, according to the organization.

The WFP points out that if Ukraine’s corn, wheat and barley fields lie fallow this year, supplies to humanitarian agencies will be much more expensive, and the program is not prepared to take on that increase. Lander assured this newspaper that the organization does not have enough donations for this year, despite the fact that the program had already warned that 2022 would be a catastrophic year, with more than 44 million people on the brink of famine in 38 countries.

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The war in Ukraine sharpens the crisis that dragged the organization. According to Lander, the WFP estimated that 283 million people in the world would require assistance in 2022. “To feed them, around 35,000 million dollars (about 31,000 million euros) are needed and we only have a budget of half ”, he assures. Added to this scenario are now the more than three million Ukrainian refugees who need help and the population that is still waiting inside the country while the Russian invasion continues.

Although, according to Lander, “food is a fundamental right that everyone should have access to”, the current scenario contradicts his vision. The availability of food also becomes a weapon in the midst of conflict, creating a direct link between war and hunger. “We see it daily with siege tactics, in which the roads through which food is transported are cut off or the crop fields are burned directly,” explains the head of the World Food Program.

The United Nations Food Organization (FAO) said in a report earlier this month that 30% of Ukraine’s crops could not be planted due to the impact of the war. Additionally, supply chains in the country are collapsing, leaving much of the infrastructure destroyed and food stores empty.

It is no coincidence that the countries most affected by hunger are dealing with wars, a situation that makes WFP’s humanitarian work even more difficult, which is overwhelmed by the scourge of violence. Lander highlights diplomacy as the main element to stop the problem: “Behind all this, political dialogue is paramount. Without progress from governments and conflict actors, the humanitarian crisis will continue to worsen and responding to it will become increasingly difficult.”

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