UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out Russia at the United Nations on Thursday for the impact its “unjustified, unconscionable” war in Ukraine is having on global hunger and called for the war to end.
“Every member of this council, every member of the United Nations should tell Moscow, enough. Enough using the Black Sea as blackmail,” Blinken said of Russia’s recent withdrawal from the year-old deal that saw nearly 33 million tons of Ukrainian grain exported to the world. “Enough treating the world’s most vulnerable people as leverage. Enough of this unjustified, unconscionable war.”
Speaking at a U.N. Security Council meeting he chaired on global food insecurity as part of the United States’ August presidency of the 15-nation council, Blinken emphasized the link between conflict and hunger in crises around the world.
“Scarce resources, heightened tensions between communities and nations, warring parties weaponizing food to subjugate populations,” he said. “Indeed, conflict is the largest driver of food insecurity, with violence and unrest pushing 117 million people into extreme deprivation last year.”
The council unanimously agreed on a four-page-long presidential statement calling for respect of international humanitarian law and unimpeded access to aid for civilians in need. The council also emphasized the need to “break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity.”
Separately, Secretary Blinken said almost 90 countries, many of them in the global south, had signed onto a U.S.-authored joint communique committing to end the use of famine, starvation, and food as weapons of war.
“Hunger must not be weaponized,” he said.
He also announced $362 million in new funding to tackle drivers of food insecurity and enhance resilience in 11 African countries and Haiti.
Since January 2021, Washington has provided more than $17.5 billion to address famine and food insecurity, including more than $7.2 billion to the World Food Program – nearly half its entire budget.
Russia’s envoy dismissed Western interest in the issue of food insecurity, saying it is only driven by a desire to “demonize Russia.”
“How can we talk about any desire on your countries’ part to address international food security issues; all that drives you is the desire to punish Russia in your pipe dreams of dealing it a strategic defeat,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said. “You do not care the slightest bit about the interests of the countries of the global south, but we do.”
He said Russia is prepared to return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative if all its demands are met. He pointed to Moscow’s announcement that it would send 25,000 to 50,000 tons of free grain to six African countries in the coming months as proof of its goodwill.
Since Moscow unilaterally left the grain deal last month, it has repeatedly targeted several Ukrainian ports, destroying critical infrastructure, facilities, and more than 180,000 tons of grain. Moscow has also warned that it will consider any ships in the Black Sea as carrying military cargo and, therefore, legitimate targets.
The World Bank said Monday that food price inflation remains high worldwide. The most-affected countries are in Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia.
The Food and Agriculture Organization said in its annual state of food security report released last month that the world is still recovering from economic setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic and coping with the fallout of the war in Ukraine on food and energy markets.
The FAO estimates that between 691 million and 783 million people in the world faced hunger in 2022, significantly higher than in 2019 before the pandemic. Much of that hunger was at the regional level, with Africa, the Caribbean, and Western Asia all seeing rising hunger levels.
U.N. famine prevention and response coordinator Reena Ghelani told the council that the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity reached a record 250 million last year. She said 376,000 of them were facing famine-like conditions in seven countries. Another 35 million were on the brink of famine.
“Every one of the seven countries where people faced famine-like conditions last year was affected by armed conflict or extreme levels of violence,” she said.
Hunger and famine continue to threaten millions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In Sudan, the U.N. said this week that more than 6 million people– about 13% of the population – are now one step away from famine. Across Sudan, more than 20 million people face high levels of acute food insecurity, due to a combination of conflict, economic decline and mass displacement.
In Somalia, the risk of famine still lingers among communities of displaced people in parts of the country, despite the scale-up of humanitarian assistance and better-than-forecast rains, which have brought some relief from a devastating drought.
Funding shortfalls are hurting the ability of humanitarian groups to assist the most vulnerable in several at-risk countries.