A Russian invasion of Ukraine within months could trigger a global food crisis that will last for years, the UN has warned. The organisation’s secretary general, António Guterres, said the war had exacerbated food insecurity in the poorest countries due to rising prices.
He thinks some countries could even face prolonged starvation if Ukraine’s exports do not recover to pre-war levels.
The Russian invasion forced Ukraine to suspend shipments from its ports, which exported huge amounts of vegetable oil in peacetime, as well as grains such as corn and wheat.
This has reduced the global supply and caused the prices of alternative products to skyrocket. According to the UN, world food prices are now almost 30% higher than at the same time last year.
The conflict, combined with the effects of climate change and the pandemic, threatens to push tens of millions of people to the brink of food insecurity, followed by malnutrition and mass starvation, the organization said.
Guterres says he is in intensive contact with Russia and Ukraine, as well as the United States and the EU, to restore food exports to normal levels.
“Complicated security issues, economic and financial implications require goodwill from all sides,” he says.
The World Bank has announced additional funding of $12 billion for projects that address food security issues. This will bring the total value of these projects to $24 billion over the next 15 months.
Russia and Ukraine account for 30% of the world’s wheat supply, and before the war Ukraine was considered the breadbasket of the world, exporting 4.5 million tons of agricultural products per month through its ports.
But since the start of the war, exports have collapsed and prices have soared. They increased even more after India banned the export of wheat.
The UN says around 20 million tonnes of grain from the previous harvest are currently stuck in Ukraine, and if released, it could ease the pressure on world markets.
Russia is also the world’s largest supplier of base fertilizer. Although the supply of fertilizer is not subject to Western sanctions, sales have been disrupted due to measures taken against the Russian financial system.
In just two years, the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity has doubled, from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million today, according to the UN.
More than half a million people live in starvation conditions, 500% more than in 2016.
António Guterres believes that the only effective solution to the crisis is the return to the world market of food products produced in Ukraine, as well as fertilizers produced in Russia and Belarus. If this does not happen, world hunger cannot be avoided.