World entering a ‘humanitarian doom loop’, UN agency warns

UNITED NATIONS: The world is entering a ‘humanitarian doom loop’ as Russia has not offered free grain to the World Food Programme (WFP), said a Rome-based UN agency.

At a press briefing in New York, Carl Skau, Deputy Executive Director of the WFP, said 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,” Skau said, adding “Despite the war and thanks to this accord, Ukraine remained WFP’s biggest supplier of wheat in 2022.”

“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 reporter, Skau said, “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.

“The UN agency buys grain where it is the cheapest and fastest to get to its beneficiaries,” he noted.

Skau said some of the countries where the needs were the greatest were also where funding for relief operations is declining, forcing humanitarians to reduce or cut assistance.

“In WFP’s case, we have to make impossible trade-offs of prioritizing assistance,” he said.

“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,” he added.

“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.”

“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,” Skau said.

He explained, “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.”

“Around 345 million people are in 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,” he added.

Skau called on world leaders to prioritize funding for humanitarian response, enhance coordination with aid organizations, and address the root causes of these crises.

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