The UN World Food Programme has called for the re-opening of Odesa and other ports in southern Ukraine so that grain exports from the war-ravaged country can reach the rest of the word, saving many more millions of people from acute hunger and starvation.
“Right now, Ukraine’s grain silos are full. At the same time, 44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
"We have to open up these ports so that food can move in and out of Ukraine. The world demands it because hundreds of millions of people globally depend on these supplies,” he said.
With ports blocked due to the war, millions of metric tons of grain are sitting in silos in Odesa and other six Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, while more grain is stranded on ships unable to move because of the conflict, according to Rome-based WFP.
Unless Ukraine's Black Sea ports are reopened, Ukrainian farmers will have nowhere to store the next harvest in July/August, WFP said. The result will be mountains of grain going to waste amid an already catastrophic global hunger crisis, the UN agency warned.
“We’re running out of time and the cost of inaction will be higher than anyone can imagine," Beasley stated.
"I urge all parties involved to allow this food to get out of Ukraine to where it’s desperately needed so we can avert the looming threat of famine," Beasley underlined.
WFP’s analysis found that 276 million people worldwide were already facing acute hunger at the start of this year. That number is expected to rise by 47 million people if the Ukraine conflict continues, with the steepest increases in severe hunger afflicting sub-Saharan Africa.
Before the war, most of the food produced by Ukraine – enough to feed 400 million people - was exported through the country’s seven Black Sea ports. In the eight months before the conflict began, close to 51 million metric tons of grain transited through the ports, according to WFP.
The disruption caused by the war has already pushed prices on food commodity markets well above the record highs reached earlier this year. In the month after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, export prices for wheat and maize rose by 22% and 20% respectively, said WFP.
Food price hikes, coupled with the soaring cost of fuel, are driving up WFP’s operational costs by up to US$ 71 million a month - equivalent to the cost of providing almost 4 million people with a daily ration for one month, WFP noted.