UN Representative Predicts Food Crisis Without Unified International Assistance
WASHINGTON — The outlook is dim for relieving the world’s poor from the scourge of hunger, the United Nations’ director of world hunger programs told a House committee Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of bad things about to happen,” said David Beasley, director of the United Nations’ World Food Program. “It’s going to get a lot worse.”
The pandemic sharply drove up the number of people living with hunger by 46 million last year to as many as 828 million, according to a United Nations report this month.
In addition, Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports and disruption of its agricultural industry are spreading food shortages internationally. Ukraine was the world’s fourth largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat before the Russian invasion in February.
Added to that is the climate change that is damaging crops worldwide. The United Kingdom reported its highest temperature in history this week while wildfires rage in parts of Europe and Africa.
Beasley’s warnings to the Foreign Affairs Committee were part of a multi-faceted plea for help.
As long as war rages in Ukraine, as long as fertilizer prices are too high for many farmers and as long climate change diminishes agricultural production, “Food security is going to be the number one issue we’re going to be facing in years to come,” Beasley said.
The United States could provide some of the relief with its economic and agricultural resources, he said.
“The American people clearly have a heart for helping people around the world,” said Beasley, a former South Carolina governor.
But with a big world to feed, “The United States cannot shoulder this burden alone,” he said.
He advocated for an international effort to address all factors that aggravate the food crisis. Otherwise, “When we don’t act in time, it’s going to cost us a thousand times more,” he said.
The problems might start with food, but soon escalate to political destabilization, economic upheavals, illegal immigration and war, he said.
An immediate need is an international campaign to reopen Ukrainian ports, particularly the country’s main export harbor at Odessa, Beasley said.
Russia’s military has mined the waters around Odessa, blocking it off from the Black Sea and worldwide maritime commerce. The city of Odessa remains under siege from sporadic missile attacks. On Tuesday, the Russian military fired seven Kalibr cruise missiles into the area.
The Ukrainians say the missiles struck a residential neighborhood. The Russians say they were aiming at ammunition storage facilities.
Foreign Affairs Committee members directed their harshest complaints about world hunger at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin’s aggression has added another stress on food security globally,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., the committee’s chairman.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said, “I don’t think he cares about the Ukrainian people. I think he wants to starve them.”
The Foreign Affairs Committee held its hearing only hours after Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska made a plea to Congress with similarly impassioned condemnations of the Russians.
She talked about the toll Putin’s war was having on the Ukrainian civilian population while asking Congress for more weapons to continue the fight.
“Because we want every father and every mother to be able to tell their child [to] go to sleep peacefully, there will be no more airstrikes, no more missile strikes. Is this too much to wish for?” she said in remarks that echoed her husband’s request for assistance in March.
Zelenska spoke to Congress less than two months after it approved $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. It included $20 billion in military aid, $8 billion for economic assistance, nearly $5 billion for food and more than $1 billion to help refugees.
Words of support from lawmakers Wednesday that accompanied Zelenska’s presentation indicated more aid is likely soon.
“The Congress remains with Ukraine as it fights to defend democracy not only for its people but for the world,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.