by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 4, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1443)
The world has not yet emerged from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic when another crisis has affected people’s livelihood: food shortages. This is the direct result of the war in Ukraine. Energy crisis has also become a major concern at a time when the world is already faced with the threat of climate change and global warming.
Collectively, these point to an apocalyptic scenario in which hundreds of millions of people are likely to face starvation and death. Countries like Afghanistan and Yemen were already in the grip of famine. At least 22 to 24 million people are on the verge of starvation in each country. These are man-made crises, not the result of any natural disaster. The same dire situation exists in Gaza under a tight Israeli siege since 2007.
While these crises have not abated, new ones have emerged. Egypt is on the verge of explosion because of rising bread and food prices. The Egyptian dictator, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had the gall to tell people to eat tree leaves to satiate their hunger. This thug in uniform and the coterie of generals around him have become fat by over-eating and indulging in massive corruption, yet he wants people to eat leaves!
Food shortages are the result of disruption of Ukraine’s exports of grain and oilseeds. Russian exports are also threatened. Together, Russia and Ukraine provide 28% of the globally traded supply of wheat, 29% of barley, 15% of maize and 75% of sunflower oil. With war raging in Ukraine since February 24 and with no immediate prospects of its ending, the food situation is only going to get worse.
The pandemic has disrupted tanker traffic and made transportation of such vital goods as wheat and oil difficult. Shipping costs have escalated resulting in increased wheat prices. They rose by 53% since the start of 2022. A further jump of 6% occurred on May 16 after India announced suspension of grain exports because of a heatwave.
People in North America and Europe—the affluent north—are already experiencing higher food and fuel prices. Prices at the pump have hit the roof. The average price of gas in North America has risen above $2/litre. There is clearly gouging by oil companies. Governments also allow such price gouging because it benefits the multinational oil companies that rake in billions of dollars in profits. The average person bears the brunt of such price hikes.
The situation in the global south is much worse. Before the pandemic and the food crisis, 1.16 billion people worldwide were not getting enough to eat. This number has now increased by 440 million to 1.6 billion people because of higher costs of staple foods. With 250 million people already on the brink of famine in Afghanistan, Yemen, Gaza and many parts of Africa, this number is likely to increase dramatically. Despite 60% of arable land being in Africa, the continent is vulnerable because of western exploitation and subversion.
Ukraine’s grain exports alone account for feeding 400 million people worldwide. With the ongoing war and especially since the capture of Mariupol by Russian forces, Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea has been blocked. It cannot export its grain. Some of it will be destroyed in damaged silos; other stocks will rot. It is a perishable commodity.
It is not difficult to surmise that hundreds of millions of more people would fall into poverty. The world has already seen the ravages wrought in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and Gaza. Islamic Iran has suffered decades of illegal US and western sanctions. These have deliberately targeted the most vulnerable segment of Iranian society. These are man-made disasters and can be ameliorated if the US and its NATO allies abandon their policy of deliberately starving people through sanctions in targeted countries.
The situation has deteriorated further because of the war in Ukraine. With hundreds of millions of tons of grain out of the market, this will have catastrophic consequences. While the west is appealing to Russia not to use food as a weapon—and this is a legitimate request—perhaps the same western rulers would look inward and see what they are doing to countries they have targeted.