Prepare for ‘hell’, warns UN food chief amid shockwaves in Ukraine – Reuters

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The head of the world’s largest food aid agency is issuing a stern warning to European leaders: pay more now to fight world hunger or face a migration crisis later.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has sent shock waves through international food markets, compounding the already serious problem of global hunger by disrupting supplies and inflating prices. This risks tipping the world’s poorest and most famine-ravaged regions into political chaos and creating an unprecedented migration crisis, according to David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme.

In an interview with POLITICO, Beasley warned that Europe must give more funding urgently or it will bear the brunt of the fallout.

“We are missing billions,” he said. “If you don’t provide a few billion extra dollars this year, you’re going to have starvation, destabilization and mass migration.”

Beasley’s intervention will sharpen tempers as EU governments draw up plans to deal with the food crisis resulting from the war, with a proposal expected as early as Wednesday.

Russia and Ukraine are among the largest grain producers and exporters in the world. Disruptions caused by war have a direct impact on countries dependent on these supplies in the Middle East and Africa.

Half of Africa’s wheat imports come from Ukraine and Russia, which is also a major fertilizer exporter. As for Ukraine, its exports have stalled and its ability to continue producing food this year hangs by a thread. The tipping point will come in the fall, Beasley said, when the full impact of wartime disruption is likely to be felt.

“If you think we have hell on earth now, get ready,” Beasley warned. “If we neglect North Africa, North Africa comes to Europe. If we neglect the Middle East, [the] The Middle East is coming to Europe.”

The economic conditions facing these parts of the world are now worse than they were in the run-up to the Arab Spring, he said. And it’s not just people in Middle Eastern and North African countries who will feel the pressure.

The WFP is already feeding millions of people further south in Sahelian countries like Niger and Burkina Faso, where problems will worsen if global food prices remain very high. “I have been warning our developed countries for several years that the Sahel will collapse if we are not careful,” he said.

Beasley is on an urgent fundraising mission in Brussels, where he spoke to two EU commissioners on Tuesday. If the food crisis spirals out of control and the world faces critical supply shortages, the wealthy West will not be spared political unrest.

“What do you think will happen in Paris, Chicago and Brussels when there is not enough food?” he said, speaking in the lavish setting of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, where the EU hosted a major humanitarian conference this week. “It’s easy to sit on your high horse in your ivory tower when you’re not the starving one.”

Untapped Trillions

WFP has an $8 billion shortfall from what Beasley called the “perfect storm” of COVID inflation, climate shocks and unresolved wars. The conflict in Yemen means that 13 million people depend on the UN agency for food. The war in Ukraine threatens to dramatically worsen the hunger crisis.

In 2021, WFP purchased most of its food from Ukraine. But Beasley said the immediate problem with its reliance on Ukraine was not a supply problem, but a broader cost inflation problem. World wheat prices have risen 19% since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to data from Business Insider.

With less money being bought than before, the stark reality is that unless the WFP gets more money soon, it may have to cut food rations in places like Yemen, Chad and Niger. , in order to feed the 3 million starving people in Ukraine or in the surrounding area that the agency helps through humanitarian means.

WFP, 2020 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, depends on donations from governments or the private sector donors that earmark funding for specific purposes. Germany is its second largest donor after the United States, with the European Commission in third place, with around $500 million. But not all EU countries weigh the same individually: France gave less than half of what Russia contributed in 2020.

It’s not just the EU’s responsibility to increase donations, but Beasley, who has been doing the job since 2017, has learned to know which doors to knock on.

A 65-year-old American, Beasley is a former Republican governor of South Carolina, who makes his case with a Southern accent. He is used to publicly sparring with the wealthy and powerful when pleading his case.

Last year he had a Twitter exchange with Tesla boss Elon Musk, who pledged to donate if Beasley could detail how he would end world hunger. “He gave me a lot of feedback but I don’t have any funds,” Beasley said.

Now he wants the richest people in the world, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to help the WFP in this crisis. He said it was “a disgrace to humanity” that “we are begging for a few billion dollars” when there are trillions of dollars of wealth floating around planet Earth, and tech CEOs increased their personal wealth during the pandemic.

“I need their financial help just for a short term. That’s what I’m asking them.”

There are reasons to hope that his trip to Brussels could at least bear fruit. Janez Lenarčič, the EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner, tweeted after meeting Beasley on Tuesday that the EU will “do its part”. Jutta Urpilainen, the commissioner for international partnerships, wrote that the bloc is “proud” to support the agency. An EU official said some EU humanitarian funds would be redirected to tackling food insecurity due to the crisis.

But details have yet to be announced and nothing is certain. As EU leaders ponder how to tackle the hunger emergency, Beasley’s warning is clear: “You will pay a hundredfold if you don’t.”

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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