Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Is Predicted to Worsen Existing Famines

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is threatening to push millions further into food insecurity and starvation, as global hunger and humanitarian needs are at all-time highs. Both Russia, Ukraine are majors exportersof wheat, barley and sunflower oil that many countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa rely heavily on. Together, they’re called the “breadbasket of the world,” and as Ukraine’s productive capacity grinds to a halt — and Russia finds itself increasingly isolated from the world community — the consequences could be devastating for poor people around the world.

The war could cause long-term structural changes, which could increase food insecurity. Conservatives and oil lobbyists in the United States have responded to Russia’s invasion by calling for an increase in U.S. domestic oil and gas production, which would pump additional carbon into the atmosphere, even as climate scientists say the world is running out of time to address global warming. Increased droughts, flooding, and fires have already led to an increase in crop yields and destroyed existing reserves. “Droughts have cut into recent harvests for wheat in North America and for soybean and corn in South America,” NPR reports. “Typhoons in Malaysia last year shrunk the crop of palm oil used for cooking, among other purposes.”

The war could also lead to an increase in countries hoarding the food they produce domestically, in response to fears of shortages — either real or theoretical. In the case of Ukraine, the government is understandably banning “exports of rye, barley, buckwheat, millet, sugar, salt, and meat until the end of this year,” Reuters reported on March 9, well into the second week of Russia’s invasion. Other countries could follow their lead, which could result in a slowdown in trade protection, which would hurt poor countries that depend on imports particularly hard. such asYemen, Libya, Bangladesh.

More generally, Russia’s invasion comes in the midst of global supply chain bottlenecks due to COVID-19. As the pandemic enters its third-year, these issues are unlikely be resolved. Conflicts ongoing in Yemen EthiopiaThese actions have also caused famine in these countries. Meanwhile the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and the resulting austerity that has been imposed by the United States, has left millions on the edge of starvation.

Many will require humanitarian aid, even if it is only for a short time, as Ukrainians flee from the ongoing Russian onslaught. Ukrainians who have been internally displaced could be subject to prolonged Russian sieges that could lead to starvation. All of these factors together suggest that food security, already a major humanitarian concern, will only get worse in the coming years.

Global commodity markets are reflecting this crisis, as the cost of “wheat is up about 50 percent in two weeks and corn justTouched a decade high” according to Bloomberg. Even before Russia’s invasion, world food costs had increased 20.7 percent over the previous year, accordingTo the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Together, Russia & Ukraine account for almost one-third of the world’s wheat and barley exports, with much of the supply going to countries already facing food shortages. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, bought nearly $10 billion in wheat exportsFrom Russia and Ukraine, combined, 2016-2020. Lebanon is also facing wheat shortages after a 2020 explosion in Beirut destroyed the country’s primary grain silos and reserves.

The shortages aren’t limited just to the cost of bread, either. “Russia is also a key supplier for fertilizers,” Bloomberg reports. “Virtually every major crop in the world depends on inputs like potash and nitrogen, and without a steady stream, farmers will have a harder time growing everything from coffee to rice and soybeans.” Ukraine and Russia are both large exporters of sunflower oil, used in cooking. Barley is a staple food for animals, so it is possible that the cost of meat will continue to rise.

According to the latest reportAccording to the United Nations, between 711 million and 811 millions people were facing hunger in 2020. Nearly one third of them did not have adequate access. Five major causes of food insecurity were identified by the report: extreme weather, high food costs, poverty, and conflict. Russia’s war in Ukraine threatens to exacerbate each of those in unpredictable ways, but whatever the results are, they will not be limited only to those two countries.

Africa has been particularly affected by climate change and food scarcity. As many as 38 million peopleDue to droughts, many people will face food insecurity this summer. But the danger extends to a large portion of the continent. “Southern Africa is being hurt more than other regions by climate change — and … women and girls are bearing the brunt,” the UN’s World Food Program said in a statement released on International Women’s Day. Southern Africa’s “temperatures are rising at twice the global average, triggering more frequent and severe storms, and longer droughts, deepening already widespread hunger.”

These issues must be understood in their entirety as humanitarian issues that call for cooperation and solidarity. The problem is not incapacity. Deepmala Mahla is CARE’s vice president for humanitarian affairs. told Bloomberg, “people are sleeping hungry when the world has the ability and is producing more than the food required to feed everyone.” Instead, global conflicts and poverty have created a food distribution problem, one that will only be made worse by rising global temperatures.

While hunger is a humanitarian problem, it is important to consider the secondary effects it has. There are some. debateWhile it is unclear what role food shortages from climate change played during the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, there is no doubt that they were significant drivers of conflict within and between countries. That’s also the U.S. intelligence community’s interpretation, which found that, “the economic fallout from COVID-19, combined with conflict and weather extremes, has driven hunger worldwide to its highest point in more than a decade, which increases the risk of instability,” accordingThe Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released the most recent annual threat assessment. While there’s plenty in the report to disagree with, there’s value in understanding the perspective of the U.S. intelligence services, if only to counter some of their conclusions more effectively.

The world’s attention is rightly focused right now on Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, and the cascading catastrophes that Ukrainians face inside and outside their own borders. In the two weeks since the war began, it’s become almost a cliché to say that this conflict signals the end of one world order and the beginning of another. The extent to which that’s true remains to be seen, but the world is already seeing how the war is worsening existing crises. These effects will not only be felt after the conflict ends but will also extend far beyond the breadbasket.