UNITED NATIONS (Dispatches) – UN chief Antonio Guterres warned Monday that the world must act to prevent a “hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system” following the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
The secretary-general told reporters in New York that the war risks sparking far-reaching consequences for the global food supply that will have a devastating impact on the poorest.
“This war goes far beyond Ukraine. It is also an assault on the world’s most vulnerable people and countries,” Guterres said.
Even before the war, he said, developing countries were “struggling to recover from the pandemic -- with record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens.”
“Now their breadbasket is being bombed,” Guterres said, noting that Ukraine provides more than half of the World Food Program’s wheat supply.
He warned that the UN’s global food prices index is at its highest level ever and that the world’s 45 least developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia.
They include Burkina Faso, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
“We must do everything possible to avert a hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system,” Guterres implored, calling for an immediate end to hostilities.
The world is facing a potential food crisis, with soaring prices and millions in danger of severe hunger, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization also warned.
Maximo Torero, the chief economist at the FAO, said food prices were already high before the Ukraine war, owing to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The additional strain of war could tip the global food system into disaster, he warned.
“We were already having problems with food prices,” he told the Guardian in an interview. “What countries are doing now is exacerbating that, and the war is putting us in situation where we could easily fall into a food crisis.”
Wheat prices hit record highs in recent days, though they have fallen back slightly. Overall, food prices have been rising since the second half of 2020, according to the FAO, and reached an all-time high in February, after wheat and barley prices rose by nearly a third and rapeseed and sunflower oil by more than 60% during 2021. The price of urea, a key nitrogen fertilizer, has more than tripled in the past year, on rising energy prices.
“My greatest fear is that the conflict continues – then we will have