The source of life
G7 Summit

The source of life

The costs of providing humanitarian aid are soaring at a time when life-saving help is most needed. But political solutions exist – and they have the power to save millions from a desperate plight

Today, 276 million people are marching towards starvation and, of this number, a staggering 49 million in 43 countries are just one step away from famine.

As 2022 began, it was difficult to believe things could get much worse for these people. But with the war in Ukraine, they have. Without urgent action from the world’s richest countries, coordinated and led by the G7 members, millions more of our planet’s poorest people will soon share this desperate plight.

The war has severely disrupted global food, fertiliser and fuel markets, sending prices soaring to record heights and putting these commodities beyond reach for those who rely on them for survival. The effects are spreading rapidly, with food shortages, price spikes and food insecurity rising across Africa and the Middle East, Central and South America, and Central Asia.

The World Food Programme’s own analysis, based on our humanitarian operations worldwide, highlights the immense damage being inflicted upon global food security by the crisis in Ukraine.

We expect a further 47 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, to be plunged into severe hunger in the months ahead because of the war. As a result, 323 million people will soon be facing crisis levels of hunger or worse – a truly unprecedented level of humanitarian need that could result in multiple famines in dozens of countries around the world. And this is a conservative assessment of the impact. The real toll may be much, much higher.

A welcome response

The Global Alliance for Food Security, launched in May by the G7 and the World Bank, is a welcome response to the growing worldwide hunger emergency. Now, as G7 leaders gather for their summit in Germany, the G7’s commitment to action must be matched by a comprehensive package of measures to stop this humanitarian crisis from spinning out of control.

threatened food supplies

As well as addressing the soaring prices and availability constraints on staple foods that we are seeing today, we must also have a plan to tackle the threat to global food supplies that will start to bite in the coming months.

The war is wreaking havoc on the Ukrainian agriculture sector, which in normal times produces enough wheat and grain to feed 400 million people a year. Overnight, a substantial proportion of this production has been wiped from global food stocks.

But the damage to agricultural production is being felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders. The huge disruption to global supplies of essential inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides critically endangers upcoming planting seasons for smallholder farmers everywhere.

The African Development Bank has warned that the continent’s 33 million smallholders face a fertiliser shortage of 2 million metric tons this year. If these shortages are not addressed, African food production will decline by at least 20%.

In total, the overall value of lost food production will equal $11 billion – a figure the African Development Bank rightly describes as “horrific”. Moreover, if the upcoming planting seasons are missed, smallholder farmers will have no seeds to harvest and sow in future cycles.

This deeply concerning picture of falling food production and rising hunger will be repeated across Asia and the Americas. The world’s richest countries cannot simply stand by and watch it unfold. 

The clear solution

We have a solution – it is called food.

But the costs of providing humanitarian aid are soaring just when our life-saving help is needed the most. Today, WFP’s operational costs are $71 million more per month than in 2019 – a rise of 44%. This is enough to feed 3.8 million people for one month. As a result, we are being forced to cut rations to the people we serve.

It is critical that when the G7 members meet in Germany they agree on a plan that fulfils five key priorities.

Fulfilling priorities

First, we need political solutions to reopen the Black Sea ports and get Ukraine’s food exports flowing into global markets again. Second, we need substantial new funding to meet the skyrocketing levels of humanitarian need – and this includes contributions from billionaires and corporations, many of which have profited from the pandemic.

Third, governments must resist protectionism and keep trade flowing across borders so aid agencies and poorer countries can support the most vulnerable populations. Fourth, we must invest in tackling the root causes of hunger and conflict and strengthen resilience as a pathway to peace.

And fifth, we must come together, and work together, to stave off the real and dangerous threat of multiple famines in the months ahead. The hungry people of the world are counting on us in this time of extraordinary need. We must not let them down.