Global supply chain: UN warns ‘millions will die’ if Ukraine’s Black Sea ports remain closed

A top UN official has laid bare an uncomfortable truth hanging over the Russia-Ukraine conflict as forces continue to rip through the region.

A top UN official has laid bare an uncomfortable truth hanging over the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as Vladimir Putin’s forces continue to rip through the region and disrupt global supply chains.

Together with Ukraine, Russia accounts for roughly 29 per cent of the global wheat export market. The two countries are also big suppliers of metals and other commodities to the rest of the world.

Ukraine is considered by analysts to be the “breadbasket of Europe” and experts have long remained wary of what an invasion could do to the global food supply chain.

David Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina who now heads the United Nations World Food Programme, has warned that the ports must be reopened within the next two month or Ukraine’s agriculture-dependent economy will collapse.

He called for further pressure from international governments to ensure trade resumed before any further damage could be done.

“Millions of people around the world will die because these ports are being blocked,” Mr Beasley said during a conference discussing trade, CNN reported.

“If you don‘t get this port issue resolved and open, Ukraine’s economy completely collapses. It becomes landlocked like Moldova. The ports are critical. World leaders have got to put pressure on Russia in such a way that we can have absolute neutrality to move supplies in and out of Odessa.”

When asked what he’d say to the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is now reportedly battling serious health problems, Mr Beasley said, “If you have any heart at all for the rest of the world, regardless of how you feel about Ukraine, you need to open up those ports.”

Speaking on the current food shortage crisis, US President Joe Biden noted an estimated 20 million tons of grain are currently stuck in silos in Ukraine.

“Guess what?” Mr Biden said on Wednesday. “If those tons don‘t get to market, an awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death because they are the sole supplier of a number of African countries.”

It came after Germany’s Agriculture Minister criticised grain theft by Russia in eastern Ukraine, as G7 countries met to discuss the impact of the war on the global food supply.

“This is an especially repugnant form of war that Russia is leading,” Cem Oezdemir said at the start of a meeting in Stuttgart with colleagues from G7 countries, Ukraine, the European Union, the OECD and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Russia was “stealing, robbing, taking for itself grain from eastern Ukraine”, Mr Oezdemir said, describing it as an “economic war”.

Before the invasion, Ukraine was exporting 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports — 12 per cent of the planet’s wheat, 15 per cent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.

But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are much less efficient.

“Ukraine is in a very difficult situation with regard to grain exports,” Ukraine’s Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said ahead of the meeting.

The Russian occupation in the fertile eastern regions of the country would also have an impact on this year’s crop.

“We cannot get away from the fact that the harvest will be smaller than last year,” Mr Solsky said.

Discussions had already begun on how to transport more grain out of Ukraine “over land, by train and along the Danube”, which flows from Germany to Ukraine, to “rescue” the produce stuck in the country, Mr Oezdemir said.

The question of food security was already on the agenda for the G7 meeting of foreign ministers, which began Thursday in the northern German resort of Wangels.

“We as the strongest industrialised democracies have a special responsibility” to help poorer nations weather the food and energy squeezes caused by the war, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

The other members of the group are Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States.

— with AFP

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