‘Knocking at the door of famine’: UN food chief wants to act now

By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The UN’s food chief warned on Thursday that the world was facing “one more perfect storm on top of a perfect storm” and urged donors, especially Gulf countries and billionaires, to donate a few days of profits to deal with a crisis with fertilizer supplies right now and avoid widespread food shortages next year.

“Otherwise there will be chaos all over the world,” World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Beasley said when he took over as head of the WFP 5½ years ago, only 80 million people worldwide were headed for starvation. “And I think, ‘Well, I can bankrupt the World Food Program,'” he said.

But climate problems have pushed that number to 135 million. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, doubled that to 276 million people not knowing where their next meal would come from. Finally, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, triggering a war and a food, fertilizer and energy crisis that pushed the number to 345 million.

“As part of this, 50 million people in 45 countries are knocking on the door of starvation,” Beasley said. “If we don’t reach these people, you will have starvation, starvation, destabilization of nations unlike anything we saw in 2007-2008 and 2011, and you will have mass migration.”

“We have to react now.”

Beasley has met with world leaders and spoken at events at this week’s General Assembly of Leaders meeting to warn of the food crisis.

General Assembly President Csaba Korosi noted in his opening address on Tuesday that “we are living, it seems, in a permanent state of humanitarian emergency.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that conflicts and humanitarian crises are spreading, and that the funding gap for UN humanitarian appeals stands at $32 billion – “the largest shortfall largest ever recorded”.

This year, Beasley said, the war has halted grain shipments from Ukraine – a country that produces enough food to feed 400 million people – and sharply reduced shipments from Russia, the world’s second largest exporter. fertilizer and a major food producer.

Beasley said donor fatigue often undermines aid, especially in countries in ongoing crisis like Haiti. Inflation is also a serious problem, raising prices and hitting the poor who have no capacity to adapt because COVID-19 “just devastated them economically.”

So mothers, he said, are forced to decide: do they buy cooking oil and feed their children, or do they buy heating oil so they don’t freeze? Because there is not enough money to buy both.

“It’s a perfect storm upon a perfect storm,” Beasley said. “And with the fertilizer crisis that we’re facing right now, with the droughts, we’re facing a food price issue in 2022. It’s created havoc around the world.”

“If we don’t fix this quickly – and I don’t mean next year, I mean this year – you’ll have a food availability problem in 2023,” he said. “And it’s going to be hell.”

Beasley explained that the world now produces enough food to feed more than 7.7 billion people worldwide, but 50% of that food comes from farmers using fertilizers. They can’t get those high returns without it. China, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, has banned its exports; Russia, which is number two, is struggling to get it to world markets.

“We need to move these fertilizers, and we need to move them quickly,” he said. “Asian rice production is currently in a critical situation. The seeds are in the ground.

In Africa, 33 million small farms feed more than 70% of the population, and right now “we are missing several billion dollars for what we need in fertilizer”. He said Central and South America were also facing drought and India was hit by heat and drought. “It could go on and on and on,” he said.

He said the July agreement to ship Ukrainian grain from three Black Sea ports is a start, but “we have to get the grain moving, we have to get the fertilizer for everybody, and we have to put end to wars. .”

Beasley said the United States had contributed an additional $5 billion for food security, and Germany, France and the European Union were also stepping up. But he called on Gulf states to “step up more” with oil prices so high, especially to help countries in their region like Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

“We’re not talking about asking for a trillion dollars here,” Beasley said. “We’re just talking about asking for a few days of your profits to stabilize the world,” he said.

The WFP chief said he also met with a group of billionaires on Wednesday evening. He said he told them they had “a moral obligation” and “need to care”.

“Even if you don’t give it to me, even if you don’t give it to the World Food Programme, get in the game. Get in the game of loving your neighbor and helping your fellow man,” Beasley said. “People are suffering and dying all over the world. When a child dies every five seconds of hunger, shame on us.

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Edith M. Lederer is the UN’s chief correspondent for the Associated Press and has covered international affairs for more than half a century. For more AP coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly