ON July 22, in an unprecedented thaw, the Black Sea Grain Deal was signed in Istanbul (Turkey) by the Russian and Ukrainian ministers in the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It shows that if negotiations are given a chance, any contentious issue can be resolved. The seed was sown by Guterres’ visit to Russia and Ukraine in late April. It underscores the role of the ‘good offices’ of the UNSG for the peaceful settlement of international disputes among the UN member-states. It also provides a pathway for finding an amicable compromise on the Russia-Ukraine stand-off after the “special military operation”. The Russian action in Ukraine has entered the sixth month.
The UNSG has aptly described the Black Sea deal as the “agreement for the world” since it paves the way for food exports from the three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea — Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny. The deal offers prospects for a new window of peace monitored through the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul comprising representatives of Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.
The Black Sea agreement will immediately lead to easing of the global food prices and help in reducing global hunger. The shipments of food and fertilisers reaching the markets will control spiralling food prices and stave off global famine affecting millions of people. “Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea…a beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility — a beacon of relief — in a world that needs it more than ever,” the UN Secretary-General optimistically said.
There has been unprecedented rise in food and fuel prices, as well as supply chain issues as the mountains of grain stocks remained stuck in silos. It shows the enormous cost of allowing the conflict to rage on, supplying arms to Ukraine as well as using the sanctions stick to beat and isolate Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. As rival egos took centre stage and crippling sanctions and geopolitics took priority in place of peace, the world has paid a heavy price. Russia has remained central in the last four centuries for the European peace and stability. “Failure to restart negotiations with Russia and the further alienation of the Kremlin would have dire long-term consequences for stability in Europe,” Henry Kissinger (98), former US Secretary of State, warned in his May 23 iconoclastic video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Russia, a Eurasian nuclear and space power, has a 20% share (2020) in the global wheat exports. Ukraine also accounts for 8% of the wheat supply. It annually supplies 45 million tonnes of wheat and some 20 million tonnes are already stuck in Ukrainian warehouses and containers. It is no less significant that some 50 countries around the world import 30% of their wheat requirements from Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine also exports 16% corn (fourth largest) and grows 46% of sunflower seed and sunflower oil (world’s largest).
In was no coincidence that early in July 2022, a report on the state of world hunger and nutrition was released at an online event. It has been a multi-agency laborious task coordinated by five UN agencies: Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN Children Emergency Relief Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organisation (WHO). Similarly, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an unprecedented ministerial-level open debate on May 19, 2022, on conflict and food security. It took place amidst reports that conflicts have been the primary driver of hunger for 139 million people in 24 countries and territories. It grew from 99 million in 2020. The situation is expected to worsen in 2022 due the conflict in Ukraine. “A sharp increase in global food insecurity threatens to destabilise fragile societies and exacerbate armed conflicts and regional instability,” the concept note by the US Presidency of the UNSC (May) ominously stated.
On April 12, 2021, the UNSG reported to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on ‘Implementation of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025)’. The report highlighted the underlying drivers of all forms of malnutrition. It called upon the states to act with urgency for elimination of “all forms of malnutrition and achieving the SDGs by 2030”. In the 2021 report, the five UN agencies graphically noted that in 2020, “between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger” and nearly “2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food”.
The large part of the problematique on hunger, inadequacy of food and nutrition has been contributed by various kinds of armed conflicts that rage across the world. They place a large part of the 7.9 billion (2022) global population to live in misery. According to FAO, the vicious cycle of hunger is largely fuelled by extreme climatic events, economic slowdowns and the Covid-19 pandemic. With the world population expected to reach the staggering figure of 10 billion in 2050, it presents a monumental challenge to sustainably feed the growing population on earth. The 2021 Global Hunger Index forecast shows 47 countries with alarming levels of hunger and 47 others will fail to reach ‘zero hunger’ by 2030.
The use of food as a weapon to starve people presents a global challenge. It is used by the armed groups as ‘scorched earth’ strategy. Such aggressive methods of warfare have been prohibited under the four 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as the 1977 Additional Protocols thereto. Still, there is a beacon of hope. “These destructive forces are not invincible,” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) president Peter Maurer said in a conversation with this writer. We need to stamp out the use of food as a weapon of war. It presents a global ideational challenge to all.
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