(Bloomberg) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven commodity prices higher, dealing a double blow to global hunger: more people in need, and smaller portions to feed them.
The attack on Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of Europe, has pushed already elevated crop prices to unprecedented heights. That’s accelerating food insecurity worldwide, including in Ukraine itself.
With energy bills also accelerating, expenses for the World Food Programme are up 44% since 2019, said Arif Husain, its chief economist. The United Nations group — the largest humanitarian organization — is trying to reach at least 140 million people this year, but lacks half the $20 billion it needs to do so, he said. And compared with food-price spikes a decade ago, this one is compounded by the pandemic and other wars raging in places like Yemen, Syria and Ethiopia.
“This couldn’t have been at a worse time,” said Husain. “We’re cutting rations left, right and center.”
The portions WFP provides were already basic: A person might receive a 15-kilogram (33-pound) allotment of wheat or rice, pulses, sugar, salt and vegetable oil per month.
The damage wrought in Ukraine, usually one of the world’s top grain shippers, is adding to the challenges. More than 3 million people in the country may need food aid. Plus, WFP often sources some 60% of its grain from the country, Husain said. Ukrainian ports have been shuttered since the war erupted, and cargoes of split peas and barley from Odesa slated for West Africa have already been canceled or delayed, the group said in a report.
WFP is holding international tenders to seek supply elsewhere, but that could come at a higher cost and add to shipping times. And the Russian invasion risks Ukrainian plantings and harvests in the coming months, further crimping global supply.
“It’s not only the devastation in Ukraine, it’s devastation frankly around the world,” Husain said. “Poor people are paying the price.”
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