…UN agency requires $18 billion to avert world hunger
…Africa and war-torn regions, the most vulnerable
The Ukraine-Russia conflict has plunged the world into a food crisis. The warring nations have in under two months, sent world markets crushing, oil prices rising and wheat costs skyrocketing.
Humanitarian agencies are on high alert of emerging humanitarian crises around the world where millions are expected to face critical food shortages. While a humanitarian situation is unfolding in Ukraine, Africa is feeling the shockwaves of combat 11 000 km away.
Most parts of the continent are expected to go hungry as food prices soar. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) which feeds millions across the world requires $18 billion to feed vulnerable community, in war-torn countries and ravaged by famine.
The UN agency’s Global Spokesperson, Tomson Phiri (TP) spoke to The NewsReport (NR) managing editor on the effects of the war on global markets and livelihoods around the world. Read excerpts:
NR: The world has already felt the effects of Ukraine crisis. What is the scale of the impact according to your assessment?
TP: Over the past 10 years Ukraine has grown to become WFP’s largest supplier of food commodities by volumes. Not only have they grown to become the largest supplier for WFP, but they have also become a powerhouse producer of grains for the whole world.
Ukraine produces food enough to feed 400 million people worldwide. Now that is huge, that is significant. There are more countries, not less than 45 African countries that are reliant on Ukraine, but also reliant on the Russian Federation for imports.
You have countries like Egypt. It is the largest importer of wheat. You have countries like Somalia, countries like Sudan and Ethiopia they are already starting to feel the pinch. Ukraine has been caught up in the conflict cold and the rest of the world is catching it.
NR: How has the Ukraine conflict affected prices worldwide?
TP: There has been an upsurge in food prices. We have seen it in Egypt and Ethiopia. Prices are skyrocketing to say the least. In terms of costs, what is happening is that global commodity markets are starting to miss the food.
What is significant is that even before the onset of this conflict, prices were already at a 10-year-high. The diminishing sources has made it worse. It has made the situation worse; we have begun to move from one crisis to the next. We are now having to contend with the prices and that is going to exacerbate issues.
NR: We have serious humanitarian crises already in Sudan, Tigray, Yemen, and other parts of the world. Where is the situation likely to get dire?
TP : In the middle east and north Africa, it is already experiencing high food prices because it imports large quantities of food. Lebanon imports 50% of its wheat from Ukraine.
Yemen, 22%, Tunisia 43%, Egypt, Turkey, Syria are also heavily reliant on grain imports. Most of these countries are countries in conflict or transitioning from conflict, Sudan for example. Yemen is neck deep in conflict.
Eight years of conflict has decimated the country. Within the first month of the conflict, prices have shot up 20%-that is a steep increase. Countries like Yemen where WFP has been feeding at least 13 million people are on their knees.
Our operations are already on life support. We had cut food assistance to about 8 million people to priorities 5 million who were already on the brink. Countries like that are going deeper and deeper because of this crisis. Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, the horn of Africa also comes to mind.
In west and central Africa are facing an unprecedented crisis with food insecurity reaching year on year high. This is the ripple effect of the conflict. With each day of fighting, Ukraine is going to go deeper and deeper into a quagmire, so is a number of other countries.
Malnutrition in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad. You have 6 million children under 5 likely to suffer malnutrition in 2020. I shudder to imagine what will happen in six months. I want this conflict to end, and I want it to end yesterday.
NR: Early April, we saw the first trucks enter Tigray for the first time in months after the government announced a humanitarian truce. To what extent will this bring relief to the people of Tigray?
TP: The WFP welcomes the humanitarian truce that was announced government by Ethiopia. WFP has the capacity to deliver assistance at scale to affected populations.
Progress was also seen with convoys of trucks into the AFA corridor into Tigray. We had a convoy of 20 trucks and one fuel tanker that arrives in the region, early April.
This is the first humanitarian convoy to enter the region in over three months. So, this is the first supplies of critical fuel in eight months. This is a significant first step and one of many steps to come.
NR: Southern Africa has not been spared the effects of the Ukraine war, but the war also comes during a poor farming season. What is your assessment of the food situation in the region?
TP: Countries in Southern are also struggling. The consequences of the conflict in Ukraine are also radiating southwards.
There is collateral hunger that is spreading across the continent and Southern Africa is not spared. Despite being 11 000km from Ukraine. The adverse effect of the conflict is likely to be felt in Zimbabwe. The war here coincides with an agricultural season in southern Africa which has been marred by erratic rainfall, not only Zimbabwe but other countries in the region.
While it is a bit premature to talk about harvesting outcomes, the WFP is concerned by the status of crops in some regions. Global markets are tight, and we are likely to faces elevated cereal prices.
NR: FEWSNET predicted that 10 million Zimbabweans will struggle for food between March and September. Do you agree with this grim outlook?
TP: I think poor and erratic rainfall will negatively affect the availability of water in most areas. On the other hand, pastures have seen some regeneration and livestock body conditions are quite fair to be honest.
However, disruptions in the international markets might cause significant fuel price fluctuations. This is supposed to be the harvest period in Zimbabwe. Although people are harvesting, the harvest is expected to be below normal.
That means, heading to the upcoming lean season, people might struggle. We will have a bit of food now, but will they have food to sustain them up to October, November, probably not. In terms of numbers, it is difficult to say but the Zimbabwe country office has estimated that at least 5,3 million Zimbabweans would be food insecure during the lean season.
At the peak of the hunger season in Zimbabwe at least 5,3 million Zimbabweans would be food insecure.
NR: How much does the WFP require to bring food on the table of millions across the world?
TP: The WFP relies on voluntary organisations which means we fundraise on the go. The resources are never enough.
We need $18 billion for 2022. Needs will always outstrip resources and we are appealing to donors, to high network individuals, foundations, and the private sector to dig deeper and contribute to the WFP so that we can reach more and more people in need.