‘Knock on the door of famine’: the UN head of food wants to act now

The UN food chief warned on Thursday that the world is facing “a perfect storm over a perfect storm” and urged donors, especially Gulf nations and billionaires, to give a few days of profits to deal with a crisis. with the supply of fertilizers right now and prevent a widespread food shortage next year.

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

Beasley said that when he took over the helm of WFP 5 1/2 years ago, only 80 million people worldwide were doomed to starvation. “And I’m thinking, ‘Well, I can put the World Food Program out of business,'” she said.

But climate problems have increased that number to 135 million. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, doubled it to 276 million people who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Finally, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, sparking a war and a food, fertilizer and energy crisis that brought the number to 345 million.

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

“We have to answer now.”

Beasley met with world leaders and spoke at events during this week’s General Assembly leaders meeting to warn about the food crisis.

General Assembly President Csaba Korosi noted in his opening speech Tuesday that “we live, it appears, in a permanent state of humanitarian emergency.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that humanitarian conflicts and crises are spreading and the funding gap for UN humanitarian appeals amounts to $ 32 billion, “the widest gap ever.”

This year, Beasley said, the war disrupted grain shipments from Ukraine – a nation that produces enough food to feed 400 million people – and drastically reduced shipments from Russia, the world’s second largest fertilizer exporter and a important food producer.

Beasley said donor fatigue often undermines aid, particularly in crisis-ridden countries like Haiti. Inflation is also a serious problem, as it raises prices and affects the poor who are unable to cope because COVID-19 “has simply 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 as not to freeze? Because there isn’t enough money to buy them both.

“It’s a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm,” Beasley said. “And with the fertilizer crisis we are facing right now, with the drought, we are facing a food price problem in 2022. This has created havoc around the world.”

“If we don’t deal with all of 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 will be hell”.

Beasley explained that the world now produces enough food to feed the more than 7.7 billion people in the world, but 50% of that food is due to farmers using fertilizers. They can’t get those high returns without it. China, the world’s leading producer of fertilizers, has banned their export; Russia, which is number two, is struggling to reach world markets.

“We have to get those fertilizers moving and we have to move them quickly,” he said. “Asian rice production is in a critical state at the moment. The seeds are in the ground “.

In Africa, 33 million small farms feed over 70% of the population and right now “we are several billion dollars short of what we need for fertilizers”. Drought. “It could go on forever,” she said.

He said the July agreement to ship Ukrainian wheat from three Black Sea ports is a start, but “we have to get the cereals moving, we have to get the fertilizer out there for everyone and we have to end the wars.”

Beasley said the US has contributed another $ 5 billion for food security, and Germany, France and the European Union are also taking a step forward, but called on the Gulf states to “step up more” with prices. of oil so high, particularly 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,” she said.

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

“Even if you don’t give it to me, even if you don’t give it to the World Food Program, get involved. Get into the game of loving your neighbor and helping your neighbor, “said Beasley.” People suffer and die 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 United Nations Chief Correspondent for the Associated Press and has been involved in international affairs for over half a century. For more information on the UN General Assembly AP, please visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly