World Food Program chief: Ukraine war has damaged global food security, creating 'a catastrophe'

A harvester in his field in Ukraine.
(Image credit: Inna Sokolovskaya/AFP via Getty Images)

The war in Ukraine is already having a devastating impact on hungry people around the world who rely on the country's wheat to survive, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Program said Tuesday.

While speaking to the UN Security Council, David Beasley declared that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has created "a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe," and with so many Ukrainian farmers joining the fight and leaving behind their crops, the world should brace for something "beyond anything we've seen since World War II."

Combined, Ukraine and Russia account for nearly 30 percent of global wheat exports, 20 percent of corn exports, and more than 80 percent of sunflower oil exports, Wired reports. With ports and shipping routes closed, corn that was harvested last fall in Ukraine can't go anywhere, and it's expected that when wheat is ready in July, there won't be enough labor to or fuel to run the combines.

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Prior to the invasion, the World Food Program was providing rations to 125 million people, Beasley said, but with the prices of food, fuel, and shopping sharply rising, the agency's monthly costs have gone up $71 million. This means "there will be 4 million less people we'll be able to reach," Beasley added. In Yemen, another country devastated by war, the World Food Program has had to cut the food rations of 8 million people in half, and "now we're looking at going to zero rations," Beasley said.

The World Food Program purchases 50 percent of its grain from Ukraine, and Beasley said it's not just his program that will feel the sting — Egypt, for example, typically gets 85 percent of its grain from the country. The UN has to ensure that food insecurity in places outside of Ukraine is addressed, in order to "avoid famine, destabilization of nations, and mass migration," Beasley said. "If we don't, the world will pay a mighty price and the last thing we want to do as the World Food Program is taking food from hungry children to give to starving children."

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