‘Knocks on famine door’: UN food chief wants action now


UNITED NATIONS (TSTIME) – The UN food chief warned on Thursday that the world is facing “a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm” and urged donors, especially Gulf states and billionaires, to take a few days of profits to address a crisis with the fertilizer supply right now and to avoid widespread food shortages next year.

“Otherwise, there will be chaos all over the world,” David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, said in an interview with the The Singapore Time.

Beasley said that when he took over the helm of WFP 5 1/2 years ago, only 80 million people around the world were starving to death. “And I think, ‘Well, I can stop the World Food Program,'” he said.

But due to climate problems, that number rose to 135 million. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, doubled it to 276 million people who did not know where their next meal came from. Finally, on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking a war and a food, fertilizer and energy crisis that has brought the number to 345 million.

“Within that, 50 million people in 45 countries are knocking on famine,” Beasley said. “If we don’t reach these people, you’ll have famine, famine, and destabilization of nations like we didn’t see in 2007-2008 and 2011, and you’ll have mass migration.”

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“We have to respond now.”

Beasley has met and spoken with world leaders at events at this week’s General Assembly 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 warned that conflict and humanitarian crises are spreading and that the funding gap for UN humanitarian calls stands at $32 billion — “the biggest gap ever.”

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

Beasley said donor fatigue often undermines aid, especially in countries in protracted crisis such as Haiti. Inflation is also a serious problem, pushing prices up and hitting poor people who can’t cope because COVID-19 “just destroyed them economically”.

So mothers, he said, are being 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 isn’t enough money to buy both.

“It’s a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm,” Beasley said. “And with the manure crisis we’re facing now, with droughts, we’re going to face a food pricing problem in 2022. This has wreaked havoc around the world.”

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“If we don’t get over 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 that’s going to be hell.”

Beasley explained that the world now produces enough food to feed the world’s more than 7.7 billion people, but 50% of that food comes from farmers using fertilizers. Without them, they cannot achieve those high yields. China, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, has banned its exports; Russia, the number two, is struggling to get it into the global market.

“We need to get those fertilizers moving, and we need to move it quickly,” he said. “Asian rice production is currently in a critical condition. Seeds are in the ground.”

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

He said the July deal to ship Ukrainian grain from three ports on the Black Sea is a start, but “we need to get the grains moving, we need to get the manure out for everyone and we need to end the wars.”

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Beasley said the United States has contributed another $5 billion to food security, and Germany, France and the European Union are also doing their best. But he called on Gulf states to “step up” with oil prices so high, especially to help countries in their region such as 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 also said he met a group of billionaires on Wednesday evening. He said he told them they had “a moral obligation” and “needed care”.

“Even if you don’t give it to me, even if you don’t give it to the World Food Program, join us. Join the game of loving your neighbor and helping your neighbor,” Beasley said. “All over the world, people are suffering and dying. If a child dies of starvation every five seconds, shame on us.”


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


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