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The global food security consequences of the war in Ukraine

© UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Ayene
22 Jun 2022

Global food security has been suffering in many parts of the world due to several manmade conflicts, climate shocks, COVID-19 and the rising cost of living. The war in Ukraine, a major breadbasket for the world, risks deepening these challenges on an unparalleled scale.

The effects of the conflict do not unravel in a vacuum. Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is uneven and disrupted by the spread of new variants of the virus, which are keeping household incomes depressed. Similarly, government resources are severely strained after trillion-dollar support packages to avoid economic collapse. The global debt burden has risen to dangerous levels, especially in the developing world. About 60 percent of low-income countries are now in, or at risk of, debt distress.

After a relentless rise since mid-2020, global food prices have surpassed previous peaks of the 2008-2011 crisis, with the war constituting an additional push to reach these new historical highs. With food prices soaring and incomes being low, today’s situation is much more worrisome than those past crises. In addition, other key drivers of hunger are intensifying. State-based armed conflicts have roughly doubled between 2010 and 2020; and the number of forcibly displaced people more than tripled, breaking the 100-million mark. The climate crisis is adding further stress to food security, as evidenced by extraordinary drought conditions in many parts of the world.

Compared to earlier this year, almost 5 million more people are only one step away from famine-like condition while food security is at “high risk” or at “moderate risk but deteriorating” in 23 out of 92 countries that are being monitored by the World Food Organization (WFP).

As the war drags on, the global food security situation is expected to worsen further. Acute hunger is projected to increase by an additional 47 million people, from 276 million to 323 million, which would be a shocking 17-percent jump, with the steepest rises in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, escalating food prices are hampering the efforts of humanitarian agencies, with rising food, fuel and transport prices severely limiting the level of assistance. WFP, for example, projects that food procurement and transport costs will increase by about US$ 71 million per month — a 44 percent rise compared to the average in 2019 and enough to feed 3.8 million people with a single food ration per day for a month.

Current food insecurity challenges are predominantly linked to accessibility and affordability issues. However, extreme weather conditions combined with a lack of fertilizer supplies and persistent logistical constraints could easily turn a food access crisis into a crisis in availability, which would further darken the outlook for the world’s most vulnerable.