Ukraine crisis will have catastrophic effect on global hunger

4 March 2022

The devastating crisis in Ukraine and the need to prevent it from becoming a conflict-hunger and nutrition crisis means we must not wait until Ukraine reaches food security emergency levels to react. At the same time, we must ensure the global hunger crisis is not further aggravated – particularly in the 20 hunger hotspots.

Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the countries in the Central Sahel, among others, are facing alarming levels of food insecurity. With a third of world wheat supplies coming from Ukraine and Russia, hunger could increase across the world. Popularly known as the ‘bread basket of Europe’, and home to the world’s most fertile soil, Ukraine has for years supplied the world with sunflower oil, barley, maize, and wheat, as well as fertilisers. 

Knock-on effects of food crisis

The Sahel region of West Africa, already stricken by hunger, relies heavily on the import of wheat

Sven Coppens, Director, Plan International, Coastal West Africa.

“The Sahel region of West Africa, already stricken by hunger, relies heavily on import of wheat, a supply chain heavily disrupted by the Ukraine crisis,’ says Sven Coppens, Director, Plan International, Coastal West Africa. “The conflict in Europe will trigger even higher food prices, meaning it can only worsen the hunger crisis in countries here such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Now, just at the start of the spring harvest season, the war in Ukraine means fields won’t be prepared, crops won’t be planted, fertilisers won’t be available; bringing potentially devastating consequences not only for children caught up in the conflict, but for the entire world, particularly those places already crippled by hunger. 

Furthermore, according to the UN, sanctions on procurement from and transaction with Russia could have a ripple effect on humanitarian operations in West and Central Africa, while operations relying on imports transiting through Russian territory might also be disrupted. 

Global food prices are rising

Before last week, global food prices were already rising at an alarming rate, and a spiralling hunger crisis currently envelopes huge swathes of West and Central Africa, East Africa and other countries such as Bangladesh, Haiti and Honduras. 

The combination of hunger, conflict and COVID-19 make the humanitarian impacts very serious .

Sven Coppens, Director, Plan International, Coastal West Africa.

Conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to a dramatic escalation in food insecurity, and it is estimated that an unprecedented 283 million people may already be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 80 countries. The crisis in Ukraine will mean disrupted supply chains and even higher prices, which could have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for people who are already acutely hungry. 

“Many of these nations that are food insecure are already dealing with conflict, and the combination of hunger, conflict and COVID-19 make the humanitarian impacts very serious. The increasing violence and insecurity in the region, large-scale population displacements due to active hostilities with deteriorating socio-political and armed conflicts, climate change and the sanitary crisis.”

Number of food insecure continues to rise

In 2022, over 61 million people were already projected to require assistance and protection in the West and Central Africa region. The number of food insecure people has been on the rise there, with more than 22 million people food insecure, and 2021 saw a drastic increase in humanitarian needs in the Central Sahel. 

On the other side of the continent, more than 20 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in urgent need of food and water. Millions of families’ harvests have failed, while thousands of their livestock – which pastoral families rely upon for sustenance and livelihoods – are emaciated or dead. 

In East Africa, food prices have for many months been rising in drought-affected areas, due to a combination of macro-economic challenges and below-average harvests, leaving families unable to afford even basic items. Meanwhile, many water points are dry, forcing women and girls to walk longer distances to access water and increasing the risk that they may face gender-based violence. 

Additional risks for girls during crises

The impacts of escalating crises on children and girls, particularly, are disastrous. Gender norms and entrenched gender inequalities mean girls and young women often eat less and last when food is scarce, and their nutritional needs may take a back seat to those of boys and men. When food is scarce, families increasingly resort to negative coping mechanisms to survive. For adolescent girls, this often means that the risk of child, early and forced marriage – and with it, their risk of early pregnancy increases. 

Plan International welcomes the massive and rapid support for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, and advocates that a food security and nutrition crises in Ukraine and refugee-receiving countries be avoided. All humanitarian funds to alleviate the suffering of people affected by this conflict must be additional, and must not at any time be diverted from already scarce financing for existing crises.

Coppens points out that diverting funds will increase the humanitarian funding gap even further.

“The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine and neighbouring countries is having a devastating impact on children, and it is vital we respond,” he says. “At the same time, we must ensure that we continue to support children in other critical and underfunded humanitarian crises taking place globally.” 

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