Country Has Gone from Breadbasket to Bread Line, Says World Food Programme Head; Local Pauses, Wider Ceasefires Key for Saving Lives, Relief Coordinator Stresses
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has created not only an immediate humanitarian crisis, but also a threat to future global food security in the form of rising prices and decreased production capabilities, speakers told the Security Council today, underscoring the need to urgently address these issues against the backdrop of Russian and Ukrainian delegations meeting for negotiations in Istanbul.
Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the 15-member organ that, just over a month after the war in Ukraine started, “it shows no signs of abating”. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 1,119 people have died — including 99 children — though the numbers are likely far greater. Civilians are trapped, desperate and afraid in besieged Ukrainian cities, lacking access to food, water and essential services. “In some neighbourhoods”, she pointed out, “it’s not even safe to bury the dead.” And more than 10 million people — including more than half of Ukraine’s children — have fled their homes.
“The global impacts of this war are becoming clearer as each day of this conflict continues,” she said, after detailing efforts by the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to respond to the crisis in Ukraine. The conflict threatens to exacerbate other crises – such as those in Afghanistan, Yemen and the Horn of Africa – as those countries and regions are already grappling with food insecurity and economic fragility. The rising prices of food, fuel and fertilizer will hit hard now and in the coming seasons. Urging that measures be found to save lives – from local pauses to wider ceasefires – she said that civilians are running out of food, energy and hope. Against that backdrop, she said that “our aim is simple: silence the guns and save lives”.
Also briefing the Council was David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), who warned that Ukraine has turned “from a breadbasket to a bread line”. The food-chain system must be stabilized, as Ukraine and the Russian Federation account for 30 per cent of the global wheat supply, 20 per cent of the corn supply and 70 to 80 per cent of the sunflower-oil supply. Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon depend on Ukrainian grain, and he expressed concern over food pricing and availability if the loss of fertilizer-based products coming from the Russian Federation and Belarus cannot be offset. “The last thing the WFP wants to do is take food from hungry children to give to starving children,” he said, adding: “Please, let’s make sure we can reach them all”.
In the ensuing discussion, many Council members underscored the need to ensure safe, unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations in Ukraine so they can deliver assistance to those who need it most. They also spotlighted the conflict’s negative effects on global food security and called for a cessation of hostilities to alleviate both current and future suffering. Others highlighted the harm that economic sanctions pose to all countries, regardless of whether they are party to the war in Ukraine. Still others drew attention to the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons fleeing combat areas, noting that conditions are optimal for human trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence.
The representative of France, pointing out that the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine is increasing the risk of famine around the world, said that the former country will “no doubt try to make us believe” that sanctions adopted against it are creating an imbalance in global food security. However, the Russian Federation is solely responsible, and the unjustified war it unleashed has prevented Ukraine from exporting grain, disrupted global food supply chains, raised prices and jeopardized access to foodstuffs for the most vulnerable. The European Union’s sanctions against the Russian Federation do not target agricultural activity in that country, he added.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, noting Western statements that his country’s activities in Ukraine have caused a global food crisis, said that the real reason for this crisis is the “unbridled sanctions hysteria” unleashed against the Russian Federation. Further, it is “hard not to marvel” at the inconsistency of today’s calls for humanitarian truces, access and pauses as, on 23 March, a majority of Council members rejected a draft resolution put forward by the Russian Federation that contained specific steps to facilitate humanitarian assistance in Ukraine. While Western States did not support this resolution, the Russian Federation is one-sidedly implementing humanitarian obligations it has taken upon itself.
China’s representative also expressed concern over the impacts of sweeping sanctions being felt in developing countries, which are not party to the conflict. Such sanctions negatively affect global food security, and he called for measures to keep the food market working. United Nations entities — including the WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) — should actively help developing countries to survive these shocks.
The representative of Ghana echoed that point, expressing concern over the “transmission of the shocks of the war” to the global economy and their disproportionate impact on developing countries and small economies. To ameliorate this situation, she called for urgent international solidarity on the issues of sovereign release of excess food stocks and calibrated intervention in the oil market, along with new debt initiatives and financial-access mechanisms to help maintain global stability.
“There is a clear nexus between hard security, the humanitarian situation and food security with regard to the Russian war against Ukraine,” stressed Ukraine’s delegate. The Russian Federation envisages destroying Ukraine’s agricultural potential to cow its leadership and people into surrender. While humanitarian assistance is urgently needed, the international community should bear in mind that the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine is an element of the Russian war strategy. “Putin is not the first dictator to weaponize food against the Ukrainian nation,” he pointed out, recalling that Joseph Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians 90 years ago in the artificially organized Great Famine.
Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, United States, Kenya, Ireland, Norway, India, United Kingdom, Albania, Gabon, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.
The representatives of the United States and the Russian Federation took the floor a second time.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 5:20 p.m.