Millions face severe hunger worldwide, Red Cross warns

Russia-Ukraine war contributes to sharp increase in fuel, fertilizer, food prices, says International Committee of the Red Cross.

Millions face severe hunger worldwide, Red Cross warns

The International Red Cross on Tuesday warned that millions of people are at risk of severe hunger in the coming months as extreme poverty, inequality, and food insecurity rose, particularly in parts of Africa and the Middle East. 

"The conflict in Ukraine has contributed to a sharp increase in fuel, fertilizer, and food prices, squeezing household budgets and forcing families to make impossible choices every day," said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Despite repeated calls from humanitarian actors, there is still no large-scale solution to alleviate the pressure the war in Ukraine is creating on populations highly dependent on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine.

"We face an urgent and rapidly deteriorating global food security situation, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East," said Robert Mardini, the ICRC director-general.

"Armed conflict, political instability, climate shocks and the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have weakened capacities to withstand and recover from shocks."

Mardini said the effects of the armed conflict in Ukraine have made an already critical situation even worse.

"The situation is urgent, and the window of time left to act is narrowing. Without concerted and collaborative efforts, (these) risks (are) becoming an irreversible humanitarian crisis with an unimaginable human cost," the Red Cross chief said.  

Severe food insecurity

Patrick Youssef, ICRC's regional director for Africa, told journalists at a UN press conference that more than 340 million people on the continent, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, are in severe situations of food insecurity.

"In our own experiences at the ICRC, our teams on the ground are clearly saying that conflict and armed violence remains one of the main drivers of food insecurity," said Youssef.

The consequences are felt more in countries already facing humanitarian crises and torn apart by decades of warfare or instability – including Syria, Yemen, Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

The Red Cross said that the world could expect to see more images of underfed children in the coming weeks, as children are disproportionately affected by food crises.

"Cereal prices in Africa have surged because of the slump in exports from Ukraine, sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change," said the ICRC.

Russia and Ukraine constitute 25% of the world's production of wheat and grains, while around 85% of Africa's wheat supplies are imported.

Hüseyin Demir