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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ due to global food shortage

Antonio Guterres has warned of a global food crisis (Jane Barlow/PA)
Antonio Guterres has warned of a global food crisis (Jane Barlow/PA)

The head of the United Nations has warned that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruption caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Mr Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertiliser and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Mr Guterres said UN negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertiliser to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilise global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable”.

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Ms Baerbock said.

She echoed Mr Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Ms Baerbock said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilisers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.