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Ukraine war could push up to 13 million more people into food insecurity, officials say: "Catastrophe on top of catastrophe"

Russian attacks persist after vows to scale back
Russian attacks persist despite vows to scale back 02:45

The United Nations is warning that the war in Ukraine could be a "catastrophe" for food security worldwide. At a meeting on Tuesday, U.N. and U.S. officials said that Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion is threatening humanitarian efforts to feed those already in need and that the war will exacerbate the situation to go "beyond anything we've seen since World War II." 

The World Food Program is an international organization that works to provide food to millions of people who have been displaced by conflict and disasters. But David Beasley, the organization's executive director, said at Tuesday's meeting that their ability to do so is in jeopardy. 

Because of the rising costs of fuel, food and shipping costs, he said, WFP was already having to limit food rations before Putin ordered the invasion into Ukraine. In Yemen alone, he said, they had to "cut 8 million people down to 50% rations." According to WFP, 31,000 people in the country are facing "famine-like conditions" — a number that may go as high as 161,000 by June. The organization says that 2.2 million children in the country are "acutely malnourished." 

"Now, we're looking at going to zero rations," he warned on Tuesday. "...We're talking about a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe." 

Ukraine, Beasley said, has gone from "the breadbasket of the world to bread lines." 

Ukraine provides 31% of the wheat that has been imported into Yemen over the past three months, according to WFP, and is also one of the organization's biggest suppliers of sunflower oil. In 2021, the country was the second-largest supplier of grains for the European Union, according to IHS Markit.

"We never would have dreamed of anything like this would be possible," Beasley said. "And it's not just decimating dynamically Ukraine and the region, but it will have global context impact beyond anything we've seen since World War II." 

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said at the meeting that the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated "that as many as 13 million more people worldwide may be pushed into food insecurity as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine." 

"The facts, colleagues, are clear: Sanctions aren't preventing grain from leaving Ukraine's ports. Putin's war is," Sherman said at the meeting. "...The responsibility for waging war on Ukraine — and for the war's effects on global food security — falls solely on President Putin." 

This accusation was denied by Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who said at the meeting that the real cause is the "unbridled sanctions hysteria that the West has unleashed against Russia without considering the population of the so-called global south, nor of its own citizens." 

Beasley said that a main concern right now is finding a way to "stabilize the food supply chain system." 

"The people who made it to the outside, the 3.5 to 4 million people, in one way you can say they are the lucky ones because they are getting food, they are getting shelter, they are getting help, they are getting some degree of hope out of harms way. But then you have 40 million people, 40 million people, that are inside Ukraine," he said. "...The farmers are on the frontlines of fighting."

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