Anne Poulsen is the Nordic director of the UN's World Food Program (WFP) - one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations that provides millions of people with nutrition every year. She warns that the number of hungry people in the world is rising - and that the war in Ukraine is making the situation worse. Photo TV: World Food Program. Photo by: Logan Abassi. Source: United Nations / Flickr.

Interview

The war in Ukraine has become a catastrophe for millions of people

Even before the war in Ukraine broke out, large parts of the world were in a famine, where the number of hungry people in the world had increased from 135 million to 276 million in just two years. This is a figure that will continue to rise in the shadow of the war.

- We must start taking from the hungry to give to the starving, says Anne Poulsen, Nordic director of the UN's World Food Program.

Heat waves, covid-19 and expensive electricity prices - it is a combination of many factors that have caused rampant food prices. While this causes a more expensive weekly action for most Swedes, it has meant that the number of hungry people around the world has doubled in just two years. The World Food Program (WFP), one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations providing food and food to nearly 100 million people each year, had already begun to reduce the amount of food it supplies people with hunger and hunger - which it will now have to do more and more as a result of the war.

- It will have significant consequences for how many people we can feed, which is worrying at a time when we have already seen a dramatic increase in the number of hungry people in the world, says Anne Poulsen, Nordic director of WFP, which works to mobilize Nordic support to combat global hunger.

WFP must reduce the number of people they provide with food, which has consequences for people all over the world, says Anne Poulsen. Photo: World Food Program.

In Yemen, an extremely conflict-ridden country, there are about 17 million people living in hunger, of which five million are starving. The UN Food Program provides food to nearly 13 million people in this country, and even before the conflict, the food needs for eight million of these people had to be halved, in order to even have the resources to feed the five million living in starvation. This is something that is happening in several of the 81 countries in which the UN's food program operates and it is a consequence of the rising food and electricity prices, Anne Poulsen explains.

Dependence on Russia and Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine are not only two countries at war, they are also among the world's largest exporters when it comes to cereals and basic crops, while they account for approx. 30 percent of the world's wheat exports. The countries are usually called the world food basket, where Ukraine before the war could produce food for 400 million people worldwide. Russian and Ukrainian farmers have not been able to harvest as usual in the spring as a result of the war, thus the reduced supply has caused rampant food prices, especially for wheat and other cereals.

- The rising food and fuel prices mean that we will need to reduce the number of people we supply with food by 3,8 million every month, it has consequences for our work all over the world, says Anne Poulsen.

The reason why the work as a UN food program is hit so hard is because they get half of all their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and it is an incredibly important commodity to be able to provide people with bread, for example. The costs for WFP have increased by SEK 700 million per month, which means that you no longer have a budget that is enough to get the amount of food needed to help people, according to Anne Poulsen.

In addition to being critical suppliers to WFP, Russia and Ukraine also import many low-income countries, such as Yemen and Congo-Brazzaville, more than half of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, there are other low-income countries, such as Somalia and Sudan, which in principle import all their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. This means that they are completely dependent on Russia and Ukraine to be able to provide food for their people and therefore lack of supply or a price increase can have catastrophic consequences.

- When food prices rise, you survive in countries like Sweden, but if you belong to one of the most vulnerable people in the world, such as in South Sudan or Yemen, a price increase of only one to two percent can be the deciding factor between life and death, says Anne Poulsen.

Rising food prices will thus be devastating for millions people, especially since wheat prices rose just over 20 per cent in March alone, and food prices have risen just as much as in February last year.

Children's development is affected by hunger and hunger

In addition to the fact that hunger and hunger can lead to death, it also has serious consequences for those who survive, which is important to know in order to understand the real dimension of the disaster, Anne Poulsen explains. Children born in countries such as Yemen or Sudan, where access to food is increasingly declining, will suffer for the rest of their lives even if they survive. The first two years of a child's life are critical in order to reach their physical and cognitive potential as an adult.

- You can never get back what you lost in the earlier part of your life, your ability will be affected for the rest of your life, says Anne Poulsen.

Pictured: a truck from the UN Food Program in Rwanda on its way to one of the UN bases. Photo: Albert Gonzales Farran. Source: UNAMID / Flickr.

The famine also has consequences such as conflicts and refugee flows, as people often migrate in order to obtain food. Anne Poulsen explains that this in turn can create a lot of instability in parts of the world that are already affected by conflicts, where you also have to compete for scarce resources - conflicts give rise to more conflicts.

Aid can be the salvation

To prevent the global famine from intensifying, measures are needed in both the short and long term, Anne Poulsen explains. In the short term, world governments need to continue to provide development assistance to the WFP. At the same time, more players need to come together to invest in stable food production in countries such as those in North Africa so that they can become self-sufficient. To achieve this, more countries need to follow Sweden's example, thinks Anne Poulsen.

- We appeal to governments to continue to give us the humanitarian support needed to be able to help the people who need us, where Sweden has really stood up, says Anne Poulsen.

After the war took off, Sida gave a large support package of SEK 55 million to WFP. A few years earlier, Sweden had played a major role in persuading the UN Security Council to adopt Resolution 2417, which means that it now condemns the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

- Sweden's partnership with the UN Food Program has been significant, as Sweden has contributed both funding and policy development to stop the global hunger, says Anne Poulsen.  

Hunger and hunger

Hunger and hunger are two different concepts. While hunger refers to an unpleasant or painful feeling caused by lack of food as well as recurrent and involuntary lack of access to food, so defined starvation as the hunger that leads to such malnutrition that a person eventually dies. WFP notes that the global hunger crisis is a fact, as 811 million people in the world go hungry and approximately 270 million people live in emergency food supply.  

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