At a press briefing in New York, Carl Skau, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said that the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative after Russia ended its engagement was “regrettable, to say the least.”
Under the initiative, WFP shipped more than 725,000 tons of grain, relieving hunger in some of the hardest hit corners of the world, including Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
“WFP relied on Ukraine’s competitively priced, accessible and high-quality source of wheat,” Mr. Skau said, adding “despite the war and thanks to this accord, Ukraine remained WFP’s biggest supplier of wheat in 2022.”
World needs unimpeded access to food
“Losing this source now is of great concern, of course, as this is really about keeping the barn door open, just when millions are knocking on it. The world needs unimpeded access to major food supplies.”
According to news reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to supply free grain to six African nations at a summit held earlier in the week, following the collapse of the Initiative.
In response to a question from a journalist, Mr. Skau said that WFP “has not been in talks with Russia about any free grain.”
“We work in full cost recovery, so we don’t service any country with in-kind. We have not been approached for any such discussion so far,” he added, noting that the UN agency buys grain where it is the cheapest and fastest to get to its beneficiaries.
A crippling funding crisis
Mr. Skau went on to note that some of the countries where the needs are the greatest, are also where funding for relief operations are declining, forcing humanitarians to reduce or cut assistance.
“In WFP’s case, we have to make impossible trade-offs of prioritizing assistance,” he said, adding that the UN agency is in the midst of “a crippling funding crisis, which is forcing us to scale back life-saving assistance right as acute hunger is hitting record levels.”
At least 38 of WFP’s 86 country operations have experienced cuts or are planning to scale down food assistance programmes, including in Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, and several countries in West Africa.
We are entering a humanitarian doom loop – where we save people who are starving, at the cost of millions of others falling closer into that same category
– Carl Skau, WFP
Entering a ‘humanitarian doom loop’
“Less funding means WFP is forced to stop assisting people who are only in the category of ‘crisis level’, this is so that we can save those who are literally starving – the category of catastrophic hunger,” said. Mr. Skau.
He explained that due to these cuts, people at “crisis levels” of hunger, will fall into “catastrophic levels”, further raising humanitarian needs in the future if the food security situation globally does not improve.
“We are entering a humanitarian doom loop – where we save people who are starving, at the cost of millions of others falling closer into that same category.”
Call to prioritize funding
Around 345 million people are at an acute state of food insecurity, while hundreds of millions more are at risk of worsening hunger, on the back of climate change impacts, natural disasters, food price increases, economic slowdown, and conflict and insecurity.
Mr. Skau called on world leaders to prioritize funding for humanitarian response, enhance coordination with aid organizations, and address the root causes that cause these crises.