Sunday, December 3

FAO alarm: war can trigger the number of hungry people

A group of Ukrainian refugees receive food in Poland. / ef

Russia and Ukraine account for more than a third of world cereal exports, which will be compromised for countries in Africa and the Middle East

The war unleashed by the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, with the invasion of Ukraine could cause a famine in countries in Africa and the Middle East due to the increase in the price of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, of which the two countries involved in the dispute are among the world’s largest producers. It is pointed out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a report made public this Friday and not without controversy. The German weekly ‘Der Spiegel’ assured two days before that the publication of this document would have been delayed due to pressure from the director general of the FAO, the Chinese Qu Dongyu, who would be following Beijing’s orders to try to avoid Russia that bad shot.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared last Monday that Moscow is the “most important strategic partner” for Beijing and considered that the bond that unites the two countries today constitutes “one of the most crucial bilateral relations in the world.” An FAO spokesman consulted by this newspaper rejected the thesis put forward by ‘Der Spiegel’ and assured that the delay was due to the complexity of preparing the 41-page report. The times followed by the FAO, however, contrast with the immediacy with which another UN agency that also deals with this issue, the World Food Program (WFP), denounced the negative impact that the war was going to have.

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On February 24, when the invasion began, its executive director, the American David Beasley, published a video on social networks recorded from southern Yemen, where he was distributing food to those displaced due to the civil war in this country. . “And now we have a war in the Ukraine. Half of the grain comes from the area of ​​Russia and Ukraine. The war will have a huge impact on the cost of food, transportation and fuel. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do. It’s catastrophic,” Beasley lamented. The WFP highlighted that same day the importance of the countries bordering the Black Sea in the production of cereals, warning that the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine would be felt beyond its borders, especially in “the poorest countries”. It should be remembered that the so-called ‘Arab Springs’ began with the protests unleashed in Tunisia over the rise in the price of bread, among other reasons.

“The world cannot afford to let another conflict cause the number of hungry people to rise even further,” the WFP said. According to the latest report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, prepared by various United Nations agencies, there were 811 million undernourished people in 2020, close to a tenth of the world population. The Director General of the FAO, Qu Dongyu, confirmed this Friday the WFP’s forecast by stating that the number of hungry is destined to get worse: “Many more people will be pushed into poverty and hunger because of the conflict in Ukraine.”

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With the Ukrainian Black Sea ports closed, the difficulties in knowing whether the grain harvest will be able to be harvested in that country in June, and the financial and commercial sanctions against Russia, the scenario is explosive for international food security. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, while Ukraine is the fifth. Between both countries they represent more than a third of world cereal exports. The imbalance that the war can provoke in the markets is particularly dangerous for the 50 or so nations, many of them poor, that obtain 30% or more of their wheat supply by buying it from Russia and the Ukraine.

Among them are States with a structural food deficit and a problem of overpopulation, such as Egypt, Bangladesh, Nigeria or Indonesia. Also the cost of fertilizers has skyrocketed. As the director general of the FAO recalls, the price of urea, an essential nitrogen fertilizer, has increased by more than 300% in one year. “The likely disruptions to the farming activities of these two major staple food exporters could seriously exacerbate food insecurity around the world, at a time when international food prices are already high and volatile,” notes Qu Dongyu.

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