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Millions in Middle East face hunger crisis as Russia’s war rages on: ICRC

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Hundreds of millions of people are at risk of severe hunger in the coming months as extreme poverty, inequality and food insecurity rise in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Tuesday.

The crisis will particularly felt in parts of Africa and the Middle East, following shocks in the food, energy and finance systems, Robert Mardini, the director-general of the ICRC, warned.

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He said that 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.

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, said Mardini.

“We face an urgent and rapidly deteriorating global food security situation, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East,” said Mardini. “Armed conflict, political instability, climate shocks, and the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have weakened capacities to withstand and recover from shocks.”

“The knock-on-effects of the armed conflict in Ukraine have made an already critical situation even worse.”

Mardini described the situation as urgent, adding that “the window of time left to act is narrowing.”

“Without concerted and collaborative efforts, this risks becoming an irreversible humanitarian crisis with an unimaginable human cost.”

Nowhere are the consequences felt more than in countries already facing humanitarian crises and torn apart by decades of warfare or instability – including those where the ICRC has some of its largest operations, such as Syria, Yemen, Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Mardini said children are disproportionately affected by food crises.

In Somalia, for example, the number of children under the age of five suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition with medical complications admitted to ICRC-run Stabilization Centers has increased by almost 50 percent compared to the same period last year.

Rising food prices push many families to take their children out of school as they can no longer afford the fees.

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

Russia and Ukraine together constitute 25 percent of the world’s production of wheat and grains, while around 85 percent of Africa’s wheat supplies are imported. Somalia, for example, gets more than 90 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

The spike in global prices has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable to shocks, especially subsistence farmers and people in conflict-affected areas, where social protection is weak.

These same communities have seen millions of heads of livestock die this year from drought.

In Yemen, after years of civil war, more than 50 percent of the population – more than 16 million people – is acutely food insecure.

An estimated 346 million people in Africa are facing severe food insecurity, while nearly 10 million people in Sudan and seven million people in South Sudan are highly food insecure.

Even before the escalation of the armed conflict in Ukraine, 90 percent of the Syrian population lived in poverty, two-thirds were dependent on humanitarian aid, and 55 percent were food insecure.

In Afghanistan, the price for wheat flour is up 47 percent over compared with a year ago, while cooking oil is up 37 percent. Afghanistan gets its largest percentage of wheat imports from neighboring Kazakhstan, which has imposed export restrictions due to the conflict in Ukraine.

The World Food Programme estimates that an additional 47 million people will be food insecure in 2022, bringing the global number to 811 million people.

“We remain committed to respond to these emergencies, but humanitarians alone are not able to address the,” said Mardini. “We – the global community -- need to collectively redouble our efforts through tailored action. The onus is on all of us. Too many lives, and too much suffering, is at stake.”

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