Full transcript: World Food Programme chief David Beasley on "Face the Nation," April 17, 2022

Full interview: World Food Programme chief David Beasley on “Face the Nation”

The following is the full transcript of an interview with David Beasley, head of the World Food Programme, that aired Sunday, April 17, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to David Beasley, the executive director of the UN's World Food Programme. He joins us from Lviv, Ukraine. Are you confident you can keep food supply lines open?

WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR DAVID BEASLEY: No, I'm not. I'm not confident at all. In fact, we're reaching millions of people, us and all of the partners in the international community here inside Ukraine. But there are places that we can't reach, like in Mariupol, in other places where Russian forces have besieged the city and are not allowing us the access we need. If we get the access, if we deconflict these access points, we can reach every single person that is suffering, struggling for food right now. That's not complicated. We just need the access while we continue to reach out to those- For example, there's already, as you know, a half million or more people that have fled the country– of strangers. But at the same time, you still have over – standing right now in Lviv, where 200,000 of those people are being supported by the World Food Program, NGOs, churches, the local government. It's quite a remarkable seen- scene to see in all this darkness and some light with people given a lot of love and a lot of kindness.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we are speaking to from a war zone. So the technical difficulties are there. But I want to continue, if we can. Given the lack of access to Mariupol, do you believe Vladimir Putin is using starvation as a weapon?

BEASLEY: Well, what I've been seeing already, that we've seen food depots that have been blown away, I've seen places where there's nothing in these warehouses but food, and that's not even in Mariupol. And so there is no question food is being used as a weapon of war in many different ways here. And I don't know the reason or rationale for it. I know it's heartbreaking because why in the world would you deny people access to food? Innocent victims of war. And this is what the World Food Programme is all about. We want to reach the innocent people. We want to be impartial. We want to be neutral, and we want to reach the people who are in need. Give us that access that we need.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We know the majority of Ukraine's own farmland is in the east where fighting is expected to pick up. We've seen images of Ukrainian farmers wearing bulletproof vests, still going out there, still tending to their fields. Do you have any sense of how the actual food supply from within Ukraine is going to be affected?

BEASLEY: Now it's going to be a major factor, MARGARET. There's no doubt about that at all. In fact, as you probably know, Ukraine grows enough food to feed 400 million people around the planet. 400 million people. In fact, we buy 50% of all the grain we buy from Ukraine, which allows us to feed about 125 million people. And this is a very serious problem if we don't get the farmers back in the fields, not just a few, but all the farmers back into the fields. So they can plant, they can put fertilizer out, they can harvest. And then equally as important is we've got to get the ports open again. If we don't get those ports open again, because the Black Sea is shut down right now. That's the basis and the way by which 400 million people get their food from Ukraine right now. So that's got to be opened up. It's got to be de-mined. It's got to be de-conflict, and it's got to happen quickly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the UN issued a really frightening report this past week saying food prices are up 34% versus a year ago, and that spike is threatening social unrest in countries all around the world. What areas are you most concerned about, and what areas is the crisis in Ukraine going to cause violence in?

BEASLEY: It's going to cause problems all around the world. And for example, we've got now 45 million people in 38 countries that are knocking on famine's door. And you may see a general price increase of food, let's say 38 to 40%, but in some of the very tough places, it's going to be 100, 200% like in Syria. And let me just give you, for example, in Yemen, we've already cut rations to 8 million people, about 50%, in Chad, Niger, Mali. We already see an incredible number of people talking about migrating from Central America into the United States, from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. Pricing is going up, up, up. And let me tell you what's going to happen. If we don't get the food that we need to reach the people in need, whether it's in the Middle East, Northern Africa or in Central America, you're going to have famine and you will have destabilization of nations and then you will have mass migration. And this will cost a thousand times more than if we can get the food and reach the people before they either die or create political unrest or migrate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I just want to underscore something there. You said you're already cutting back on food rations in certain countries because of the crisis in Ukraine. How do you decide that? How do you decide who eats and who doesn't?

BEASLEY: No, that's- that's a heck of a problem, as you can imagine. But because of increased fuel costs, increased food costs and shipping costs, we are already experiencing a $71 million increase in operational costs per month. So when we don't have enough money, well, guess what? We have to choose which children eat, which children don't eat. We try to reach the most vulnerable children, but it's based on money. You know, what's break- What breaks your heart is there's $430 trillion worth of wealth around the world today. There's no reason a single child should be dying from hunger, much less going to bed hungry. So we've got the ability to reach these people. We just need the money to do so. But this Ukrainian situation is creating a crisis on pricing, and if we don't address it quickly, you could have an availability problem around the world.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a funding and availability. The United States is the single largest donor. In the past, Russia has provided millions of dollars in funding. Do you expect them to cough up a dime right now?

BEASLEY: Well, we'll just have to see. I mean, they are a major producer of food, there's no doubt about that. And just like Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world, and now they're in bread lines. You'd never would have thought we'd see this, but thank goodness the United States has been stepping up in a major way, and it's got to step up more in a way it's never had before. And I've been meeting with Democrat and Republican senators, as well as members of the House and the White House. And, you know, it seems like in Washington, they seem to be fighting on everything, the days and the hours. But when it comes to food security, I can proudly say that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue come together, and it's a remarkable thing to see. And the United States, our friends in the Senate, in the House, have been increasing our operational budget. But we're facing a perfect storm right now. We're going to need extra few billion this year. But if we don't get it, you're going to have war, conflict, destabilization, which is going to cost a thousand times that. So we're looking to the United States, other countries like Germany, the EU, the U.K. I could go on and on. What Russia may do, who knows? I would imagine this would be pretty tough this year. But then anyway, it's going to be a difficult time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm Well, there was additional food aid that was cut out of a recent COVID bill on Capitol Hill. For those who say the United States needs to be more fiscally responsible, that it can't continue to pump in more aid money. What would you say to that? How do you persuade some of your fellow Republicans who are skeptical?

BEASLEY: It's not difficult at all. It's like having a leaky water line in the ceiling and you don't fix them and you go have to replace the flooring. You're going to have to replace the table, the chairs, the curtains. It's a lot cheaper to go out there, fix the waterline. And that's what we're talking about, because there's no free lunch here at all. If you don't reach the people where they are, if you will, cost you a thousand times more. And let me just give you an example. And this is typical. We feed 125 million people on any given day, week or month. And I know from firsthand experience people don't want to leave home, they don't want to migrate. But if they don't have food, and for example, in Syria. We can feed a Syrian in Syria for $0.50 a day, that same Syrian ends up in Berlin or Brussels, the United States, the humanitarian support package is $70 a day. Let me give you an example. Just on the United States border, we can support for 1 to $2 a week individually families in Guatemala to give them food security. But if you go back and look at the announcement, The Washington Post did a story whereby there are shelters along the border, shelters for children, $3,750 per child per week. And for $1, we can give food security for that child at home. So you're going to pay for it one way or the other. Why don't we do it the right way, the cheap way? Because you are going to pay for it a thousand times more if you don't. That is not complicated.

MARGARET BRENNAN: World Food Programme put out a report saying back in 2015 that surge of Syrian migrants into Europe was driven by a cut of funding in World Food Programme aid because people couldn't find food in the camps, they went elsewhere. Are you predicting, and that's what I think I hear you saying, that you see a refugee crisis resulting if there is not more food aid?

BEASLEY: No question about it. I mean, how many times you got to be hit over the head by the same, you know, hammer? And this is what Germany in the EU realized their mistake. I have talked with the German leadership and they realize the mistake they made by not going in in advance and dealing with it up front. And for example, in Germany alone, just over a five over five year period with 1 million refugees, it cost them $125 billion. Do the math. We could have fed those million for $0.50 per person, per person, per day. And you do the math. $0.50 versus $70 per day. It's not complicated. And guess what? The Syrian did not want to leave home. We survey people all the time. When you feed 125 million people like we do, we survey that, we talk with them. I have met with families. They don't want to leave home. But if they don't have food, I don't know where mother or father in the world that wouldn't do what they need to do to get their child food. And that includes leaving home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, in your- in December, your agency predicted 23 million Afghans were in urgent need of food, including more than 3 million children following the Taliban's rise to power in the U.S. exit. This is already tough. Is the crisis in Ukraine diverting resources away from desperate places like Afghanistan?

BEASLEY: Margaret, what you're talking about, there is a heartbreaker. The last thing we want to do is take food from a hungry child to give it to a starving child. I don't care where they are in the world. We thought it was bad enough, we had a perfect storm with conflict, climate shocks and COVID. Then Ethiopia crisis. Then on top of Yemen and Syria, then Afghanistan hit. Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, and we were running short of money, which is why we've been cutting rations to children and families of people around the world. Then you have Ukraine, the breadbasket of the world. So we don't have enough money to reach the children in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Ukraine. And now, because we're devastating the breadbasket of the world, there's a possibility that children all over the world, independent of humanitarian aid, are not going to have the availability of food. So it's a serious problem, but the answer is obviously end the war. And number two, give us the support we need, otherwise, you're going to pay for it in multiple ways and it's going to be, again, so much more expensive.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Before I let you go, I want to ask, what is your message to Americans at home? Is it to cut back on their own consumption? Is it to donate money? I mean, what would you appeal to Americans to do on this holiday?

BEASLEY: You know, the American people I've always found, when they know there's a need, I have never seen any place on earth that beats the heart of the American people when they know there's devastation, they respond. So the American people, number one need to pray, need to pray, particularly this time period right now to end the wars and to bring peace among the nations. And number two, yes. If you can, go online with us WFP.org or any other organization, and give some money. Call your members of the Senate and the House say, hey, we need to support these innocent victims of conflict and war. And be more- be more careful about how much food you waste and let's be more productive and let's be more responsible. But at the same time, you know, the American people are incredible, incredible people. So we need their help now more than we ever had before.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Good luck to you, sir. Thank you for your time.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment.


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