March 30 (UPI) — The war in Ukraine has created “a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe” unlike anything seen since the Second World War, the United Nations food chief said, warning the conflict could create a global food insecurity problem that would further harm the world’s poorest nations.
David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine his organization had already begun cutting rations for millions of children and families worldwide due to rising fuel, food and shipping costs.
In Yemen, he said, the WFP, which feeds about 125 million people, had recently cut rations for 8 million people in need by 50% and they are now looking at providing them with zero rations with countries such as Mali, Chad and others facing similar fates.
The war has exacerbated the situation because the two nations involved in the conflict produce 30% of the world’s supply of wheat, which is now under threat as Ukrainian farmers put down their hoes for weapons to join the frontline.
Together, they also produce 20% of the world’s maze and up to 80% of its sunflower seed oil.
Meanwhile, the WFP buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine with Lebanon dependent upon the country for 81% of its grain and Egypt 85%, he said.
“It’s planting season for corn, maze right now for the next four weeks. Well, whose going to be tending the crops? Then you got harvest season for, let’s say wheat, coming up in June, July. Well, if the farmers are on the frontlines you can see we’re concerned not just about what happens inside Ukraine, but also about what’s going to be happening outside,” he said, adding that the issue is further compounded by the lack of fertilizer-based products to come from Belarus and Russia.
“So, we’re looking at what could be a catastrophe, on top of a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe in the months ahead.”
Beasley made his warning days after the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations issued an alert, stating it’s “deeply concerned” about the food security situation in Ukraine.
The alert states that assessments of 19 of Ukraine’s 24 oblasts indict that food shortages are expected immediately on in the next three months in more than 40% of the cases.
“It is uncertain whether Ukraine will be able to harvest existing crops, plant new ones or sustain livestock production as the conflict evolves,” it said. “As insecurity persists, and both local and national supply chains are disrupted, people are likely to fall deeper into emergency levels of hunger and malnutrition.”
The war, which began on Feb. 24, has created nearly 4 million refugees and killed at least 1,100 civilians.
Beasley said that as they try and aid Ukraine the world needs to be careful to not neglect the food situation in Sahel, northern Africa or the Middle East, “otherwise you’ll have massive migration coming from all sides of Europe” and it is substantially cheaper to people feed in their home countries.
“So, this is a crisis on top of a crisis,” he said.