“Otherwise there will be chaos around the world,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, in an interview with The Associated Press.
Beasley said that when he took the WFP helm 5 1/2 years ago, only 80 million people around the world were hungry. “And I’m thinking, ‘I can shut down the World Food Program,'” he said.
But climate concerns pushed that number up to 135 million. The COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020 doubled that to 276 million people who didn’t know where their next meal would come from. Finally, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, triggering a war and a food, fertilizer and energy crisis that has pushed the number to 345 million.
“Within it, 50 million people in 45 countries are knocking on the door of hunger,” Beasley said. “If we don’t reach these people, you’re going to have hunger, starvation, destabilization of nations unlike anything we saw in 2007-2008 and 2011, and you’re going to have mass migration.”
“We must answer now.”
Beasley has met with world leaders and spoke at events at this week’s General Assembly leaders’ gathering to warn of the food crisis.
General Assembly President Csaba Korosi noted in Tuesday’s opening speech that “we seem to be living in a permanent humanitarian emergency.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that conflicts and humanitarian crises are spreading, with a $32 billion shortfall in funding for UN humanitarian appeals, the largest gap on record.
This year, Beasley said, the war halted grain shipments from Ukraine — a country that produces enough food to feed 400 million people — and sharply limited shipments from Russia, the world’s second-largest fertilizer exporter and a major food producer.
Donor fatigue often undermines aid, Beasley said, especially in troubled countries like Haiti. Inflation is also a serious problem, driving up prices and hitting poor people who can’t cope because COVID-19 “just devastated them economically.”
So, according to him, mothers are forced to decide: do they buy cooking oil and feed their children, or do they buy heating oil to keep them from freezing? Because there is not enough money to buy both.
“It’s a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm,” Beasley said. “And with the current fertilizer crisis and drought, we’re going to face a food pricing problem in 2022. It’s wreaked havoc around the world.”
“If we don’t get this done quickly — and I don’t mean next year, I mean this year — you’re going to have a food availability problem in 2023,” he said. “And it’s going to be hell.”
Beasley explained that the world currently produces enough food to feed more than 7.7 billion people in the world, but 50% of that food is because farmers used fertilizer. Without it, they will not get a large harvest. China, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, has banned its exports; Russia, in second place, is struggling to gain access to global markets.
“We need to move these fertilizers and we need to move it quickly,” he said. “Asia’s rice production is now in a critical state. The seeds are in the ground.”
In Africa, 33 million small farms feed more than 70% of the population, and now “we need several billion dollars for fertilizers.” He said Central and South America were also facing drought and India was hit by heat and drought. “It could go on and on,” he said.
He said a July agreement to ship Ukrainian grain from three Black Sea ports was a start, but “we have to get the grain moving, we have to get fertilizer for everyone, and we have to stop the wars.”
Beasley said the United States contributed an additional $5 billion to food security, and Germany, France and the European Union are also increasing. But he urged Gulf states to “raise more” with such high oil prices, particularly to help countries in their region such as Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.
“We’re not talking about asking for a trillion dollars here,” Beasley said. “We’re just talking about asking for a few days of profit to stabilize the world,” he said.
The WFP chief said he also met with a group of billionaires on Wednesday night. He said he told them they had a “moral obligation” and a “need to care”.
“Even if you don’t give it to me, even if you don’t give it to the World Food Program, get in the game. Get in the game of loving your neighbor and helping your neighbor,” Beasley said. “People are suffering and dying all over the world. If a child dies of hunger every five seconds, shame on us.”
Edith M. Lederer is the chief United Nations correspondent for The Associated Press and has covered international affairs for more than half a century. For more on AP’s UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly