The United States will step up purchases of about 150,000 metric tons of grain from Ukraine in the next few weeks for the upcoming delivery of food aid from ports no longer blockaded by war, the head of the World Food Program told The Associated Press.
Final destinations for the grain have not been confirmed and discussions are ongoing, David Beasley said. But the planned shipment, one of several by the UN hunger-fighting agency, is more than six times the amount of grain that the first WFP-organized ship from Ukraine is currently carrying to people in the Horn of Africa who are at risk of starvation.
Beasley was speaking Friday from northern Kenya, which is in the grip of a deep drought that is drying up the Horn of Africa region. He sat under a thorn tree among local women who told AP that the last time it rained was in 2019.
Their communities are facing another bad rainy season for several weeks, which could lead to famine in parts of the region, especially neighboring Somalia. Thousands of people have already died. According to the World Food Program, 22 million people are hungry.
“I think there’s a good chance we’re going to have a famine” in the coming weeks, Beasley said.
He called the situation in the Horn of Africa “a perfect storm on top of a perfect storm, a tsunami on top of a tsunami” as the drought-prone region struggles to cope with high food and fuel prices caused in part by the war in Ukraine. .
The expected first aid ship from Ukraine is carrying 23,000 metric tons of grain, enough to feed 1.5 million people with full rations for a month, Beasley said. It is expected to dock in Djibouti on August 26 or 27, and the wheat is to be shipped overland to northern Ethiopia, where millions of people in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions have faced not only drought but also deadly conflict.
Ukraine was the source of half of the grain WFP bought last year to feed 130 million hungry people. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed agreements with the UN and the government of Turkey, which allow the export of Ukrainian grain to Belarus. for the first time since the Russian invasion in February.
But the slow recovery of Ukraine’s ports and careful movement of cargo ships through the mined Black Sea will not solve the global food security crisis, Beasley said. He warned that richer countries must do much more to get grain and other aid to the world’s hungriest parts of the world, and he named names.
“With oil profits so high right now — record profits, billions of dollars every week — … the Gulf countries need to help, they need to step up and do it now,” Beasley said. “It is unforgivable not to do it. Especially since these are their neighbors, these are their brothers, their family.”
He argued that the World Food Program could save “millions of lives” in just one day of Gulf oil profits.
China should also help, Beasley said.
“China is the second largest economy in the world and we get very little from China,” he added.
Despite grain leaving Ukraine and hopes that global markets are beginning to stabilize, the world’s most vulnerable people face a long and difficult recovery, the head of the WFP said.
“Even if this drought ends, we’re talking about a global food crisis for at least another 12 months,” Beasley said. “But from the perspective of the poorest of the poor, it’s going to take years to get out of this.”
Some of the world’s poorest, most food-deprived people live in northern Kenya, where animal carcasses are slowly torn to the bone under a merciless sky. Millions of animals, the source of wealth and food for families, died as a result of the drought. Many water pumps failed. More and more thousands of children are malnourished.
“Don’t forget us,” resident Hassan Mohamud told Beasley. “Even the camels have disappeared. Even the donkeys gave in.”
With so many in need, the help that comes may disappear like a drop of rain in the sand. Local women who were eligible for WFP cash handouts described taking 6,500 shillings (about $54) and dividing it among their neighbors – in one case, 10 families.
“The most interesting thing we hear is people saying, ‘We are not alone,'” Felix Okech, a WFP program officer, told the AP. “We were chosen (for distribution), but there are many more like us.” So that’s very hurtful to hear.”
In a small crowd gathered to hear stories of children who were too weak to stand and whose milk had dried up, one woman on the edge of a woven plastic mat spoke up. Sahara Abdileh, 50, said she earns about 1,000 shillings ($8.30) a week collecting firewood, clearing a landscape that yields less every day. Like Beasley, she thought globally.
“Is there a country like Afghanistan or Ukraine that is worse than us?” she asked.