Russia has transformed an existing life-threatening wave of food crises into a tsunami by blocking the export of 25m tonnes of grain from Ukraine’s ports, the Germany’s foreign minister has said.
Speaking at the start of an inter-ministerial food conference in Berlin, a precursor to the G7 meeting in Germany starting this weekend where aid groups will demand a big financial commitment to help Africa, Annalena Baerbock said 345 million people worldwide were currently threatened by food shortages.
She said the hunger crisis was building “like a life-threatening wave before us” but it was Russia’s war that had “made a tsunami out of this wave”, and she said Rusland was using hunger as a weapon of war.
In an international blame game playing out across Africa, Russia claims it is western sanctions that are slowing the flow of Russian food.
Soveel as 25 African countries, including many of the least developed, import more than one-third of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, en 15 of them more than half.
Her remarks led Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and prime minister, to make a reference to the German starvation tactics in the second world war. Hy het gesê: “German officials are accusing Russia of using hunger like a weapon. It is amazing to hear this from officials whose country kept Leningrad in blockade for 900 dae, where almost 700 thousand people died of starvation.”
But Baerbock’s criticism of Russia was backed by Arif Husain, the chief economist at the UN World Food Programme, who said it was not sanctions that were causing the food crisis but war. “We tend to address the symptoms and forget the root cause, and the root cause is war," hy het gesê.
He said more than 40 countries were now facing food inflation of over 15%, and upwards of 30 economies had seen depreciation of their currency of more than 25%.
“The numbers do not lie. Pre-Covid we were looking at about 135 million people in crisis or the worst type of food security situation. Vandag, including Ukraine’s impact, that number is 345 miljoen. Daar is omtrent 50 million people in the world who are what we call in hunger emergencies, meaning one step away from famine. That is not in one, two or five countries, but upwards of 45 lande. That’s the magnitude, that’s the scale of the problem you’re talking about.”
He also said the “affordability crisis” caused by high prices could turn into an “availability crisis” next year largely because fertilisers are not moving at the rates required. He said funding shortfalls caused by rising costs and demand meant the WFP was “having to cut rations left right and centre”.
Speaking at a Chatham House conference, he rejected suggestions that the loss of Ukraine exports by sea could be substituted by road and rail. He said UN estimates showed only 1.5m to 2m tonnes of grain a month could be transported by road and rail routes, compared with the 5m to 6m a month normally exported through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. He said the road routes would require 9,000 trucks a day.
“Think about the dynamic of 9,000 trucks on the road in a war zone. It would be prohibitively expensive by road even if you could do it. The premium for the grain would put you out of the market on the global stage. It is not about getting 1-2m tonnes out – that will not make a dent on world market prices.”
The talks between Russia, the UN, Turkey and Ukraine centre on the terms for safe passage of grain convoys out of Odesa, as well as Russian claims that western sanctions are restricting its shipment of fertilisers. The EU insist it has exempted foodstuffs from sanctions, and says the Russian position is a diversion from its refusal to give guarantees that it will not attack Odesa.
Antony Blink, the US secretary of state, gesê: “A combination of Covid, climate and now conflict is creating an even graver crisis of food insecurity. Let us be very, very clear: the only reason for this now is the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Russian blockade of grain and foodstuffs moving out.”
On Sunday during the Economic Forum in Saint-Petersburg, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin channel RT, seemed to be betting on famine changing westerners’ attitudes towards Moscow. “The famine will begin and they will lift the sanctions," sy het gese.