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Tens of millions face starvation due to war in Ukraine, UN chief warns

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat and barley supplies, with more than 36 countries relying heavily on their imports.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned of an impending global food shortage due to the war in Ukraine on Wednesday saying tens of millions could be tipped into starvation. 

He was speaking during a meeting on world hunger at the UN headquarters in New York when he said the conflict “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity followed by malnutrition, mass hunger, and famine.”

Mr Guterres said he was in discussions with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, the US and the European Union to secure the resumption of Ukrainian grain shipments and Russian fertiliser exports to stave off the crisis. 

Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat and barley supplies and half of its sunflower oil. Before the war, Ukraine was seen as the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce through its ports per month.

“In the past year, global food prices have raised by nearly one-third, fertiliser by more than half, and oil prices by almost two-thirds,” Mr Guterres said.

According to the United Nations, more than 36 countries count on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

Mr Guterres warned the number of severely food insecure people had doubled in just two years, from 135 million before the coronavirus pandemic to 276 million today.

More than half a million people are experiencing famine conditions — an increase of more than 500 per cent since 2016.

“These frightening figures are inextricably linked with conflict, as both cause and effect,” the UN chief said, adding that, “if we do not feed people, we feed conflict.”

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