The head of the United Nations warned on Friday that the world is facing a “catastrophe” due to the growing shortage of food around the world.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the war in Ukraine has contributed to the disruptions caused by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and inequality, creating an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” that already affects hundreds of millions of people.
“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”
Guterres noted that crops in Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle with rising fertilizer and energy prices.
“This year’s food access problems could turn into next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune from the social and economic consequences of such a catastrophe.”
Guterres said UN negotiators are working on a deal that would allow Ukraine to export food, including through the Black Sea, and allow Russia to bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.
He also called for debt relief for poor countries to keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.
The host of the Berlin meeting, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were the cause of food shortages was “completely untenable”.
Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.
She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.
“But it was Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.
US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for withholding vital goods from world markets.
“The sanctions we have jointly and with many other countries imposed on Russia exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.