Russia has turned an existing wave of life-threatening food crises into a tsunami by blocking the export of 25 million tonnes of grain from Ukrainian ports, the German foreign minister has said.
Speaking at the start of an inter-ministerial food conference in Berlin, a precursor to the G7 meeting in Germany from this weekend where aid groups will demand a major financial commitment to help Africa, Annalena Baerbock said 345 million people worldwide are currently at risk from food. shortages.
She said the hunger crisis was building “like a deadly wave ahead of us”, but it was Russia’s war that had “turned this wave into a tsunami”, and she said Russia was using the hunger as a weapon of war.
In an international blame game being played across Africa, Russia says it is Western sanctions that are slowing the flow of Russian food.
No less than 25 African countries, including many of the least developed, import more than a third of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and 15 of them more than half.
His remarks led Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and prime minister, to refer to German starvation tactics during World War II. He said: “German officials accuse Russia of using hunger as a weapon. It’s amazing to hear this from officials whose country kept Leningrad under blockade for 900 days, where nearly 700,000 people starved to death.
But Baerbock’s criticism of Russia was backed by Arif Husain, the chief economist of the United Nations World Food Programme, who said it was not the sanctions that were causing the food crisis but the war. “We tend to treat the symptoms and forget the root cause, and the root cause is war,” he said.
He said more than 40 countries now face food inflation of more than 15% and more than 30 economies have seen their currencies depreciate by more than 25%.
“The numbers don’t lie. Before Covid, we were looking at around 135 million people in crisis or the worst kind of food security situation. Today, including the impact of Ukraine, that number is 345 million There are about 50 million people in the world who are in what we call the hunger emergencies, which is one step away from starvation. It’s not in one, two or five countries. , but in over 45 countries. That’s the magnitude, that’s the magnitude of the problem you’re talking about.
He also said the “accessibility crisis” caused by high prices could turn into an “availability crisis” next year, largely because fertilizers are not moving at the required rates. He said funding shortfalls caused by rising costs and demand meant the WFP “had to cut rations left and right”.
Speaking at a conference at Chatham House, he dismissed suggestions that the loss of Ukrainian exports by sea could be replaced by road and rail. He said UN estimates showed that only 1.5-2 million tonnes of grain per month could be transported by road and rail, compared to 5-6 million per month normally exported through Ukrainian sea ports. Black. He said the road routes would require 9,000 trucks per day.
“Think of the dynamics of 9,000 trucks on the road in a war zone. It would be cost prohibitive by road even if you could do it. The grain premium would put you out of the market on the world stage. It’s not about taking out 1-2 million tons – it won’t affect world market prices.
Talks between Russia, the UN, Turkey and Ukraine focus on conditions for safe passage of grain convoys out of Odessa, as well as Russian claims that Western sanctions are restricting its shipment of fertilizer. The EU insists it has exempted foodstuffs from the sanctions and says the Russian stance is a diversion from its refusal to give guarantees that it will not attack Odessa.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said: “A combination of Covid, climate and now conflict is creating an even more severe food insecurity crisis. Let’s be very, very clear: the only reason for this now is Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Russian blockade on grain and foodstuffs going out. »
On Sunday, at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin channel RT, seemed to be betting on starvation to change Westerners’ attitude towards Moscow. “The famine will start and they will lift the sanctions,” she said.