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“When there is war, people go hungry,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned last month. This is exactly what is starting to happen as the war in Ukraine destroys the world’s food supply.

The global food shortage is a largely invisible consequence of the war in Ukraine, which involves two of the world’s largest grain exporters. The ripple effect in global markets is just beginning. But a senior White House official warns that if quick steps are not taken, the war could spark “potential massive famine.”

The numbers are scary. Samantha Power, administrator at the US Agency for International Development, believes the conflict has blocked exports 30 percent world wheat and barley. The Center for Global Development predicts that food and energy price hikes will push 40 million people into extreme poverty and food insecurity. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that global food prices 30 percent higher than a year ago.

The world’s food supplies are “literally held hostage by the Russian military,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said. told the United Nations last month. He described Ukrainian farmers wearing helmets and bulletproof vests trying to harvest.

President Biden this week denounced a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports that has kept 20 million tons of grain locked up in silos. “He cannot get out through the Black Sea because he will be blown out of the water by the wind,” he said. told the labor congress in Philadelphia. For countries like Egypt, which used to buy up to 80 percent of its wheat from Ukraine, this shutdown is a disaster.

This grim side effect of the war is finally getting attention. This week, Biden announced a plan to build temporary grain elevators on Ukraine’s land borders to allow more grain to be exported overland. Blinken will travel to Germany next week to meet with allies to discuss emergency measures to combat food shortages. “Wherever we go, every country we talk to is concerned about this issue,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

The war turned Ukraine from a granary into a zone of free fire. According to a State Department official, Ukraine typically exports 5 to 6 million tons of grain per month. In March, it dropped to 200,000 tons, and in April it dropped to just 600,000 tons. According to a State Department official, exports recovered to 2 million tons in May. And he hopes that by using land routes, Ukraine will be able to export 3 to 4 million tons a month until April next year, but that’s only a little more than half of what it used to sell.

The shortage led to sharp price hikes. A USAID spokesman said Thursday that the agency is paying 10 to 20 percent more for goods than before the war. The World Food Program’s operating expenses are increasing by $29 million per month, the official said. Fertilizer prices have doubled over the past year, according to World Bank data cited by a USAID spokesperson.

In poor countries, more people go hungry. A USAID project called the Famine Early Warning Systems Network lists 10 countries that will face severe nutritional problems because of the Ukrainian conflict, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen, which are already ravaged by their own internal conflicts.

Guterres has been working for weeks to lift the Black Sea embargo in a deal that would make it easier to export food and fertilizer from Russia, as well as Ukraine. He is in quiet talks with Turkey, Russia and Ukraine and hopes to meet with the three countries next week in Turkey to discuss plans to open the Black Sea to trade, including escorting cargo ships.

This UN discussion on the Black Sea has been one of the few mediation channels that remain open. State Department officials are backing Guterres’ efforts and hope that if negotiations go well next week, Ukraine will be able to ship 2 to 4 million tons of grain a month by sea. Russian President Vladimir Putin is “weaponizing hunger by deliberately removing tens of millions of tons of food from the market while millions of lives in Africa and beyond hang in the balance,” Power wrote in an email.

The war in Ukraine is going on within the borders of this country. But increasingly, the effects are being felt around the world. It may be impossible to stop the war, but an urgent end to the brutal blockade of the Black Sea, which is causing the world’s poorest people to starve, must be urgently ended.

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