Food insecurity: US scales up aid to Africa while blaming Russia at the UN

By Julian Pecquet

Posted on Friday, 20 May 2022 09:07
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia attends U.N. Security Council meeting in New York
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia attends a United Nations Security Council meeting on food insecurity and conflict at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., May 19, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Joe Biden administration this week announced hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency assistance for African and other countries facing a food crisis while using its United Nations platform to blame Russia.

This May the United States is making food security the focus of its month-long Security Council presidency for the second year in a row. As part of a “week of action,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of 10 African countries on 18 May to tackle what he called “the greatest global food security crisis of our time” before leading a ministerial debate on conflict and food security the next day.

During his two-day mission to New York, Blinken announced an extra $215m to expand emergency food security operations through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to several countries including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The announcement brings to almost $2.6bn the amount of emergency food assistance the US has provided since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February wreaked havoc on global food, fuel and fertilizer markets.

In his 19 May appearance before the council, Blinken accused the Russian Federation of violating the 2018 resolution condemning the use of starvation as a tool of war, suggesting its actions may amount to war crimes. These include trapping Ukrainian food exports, besieging Ukraine’s main sea port in Odessa and disrupting commercial traffic in the Black Sea.

“This council has a unique responsibility to address the current crisis, which constitutes a serious threat to international peace and security. That starts by strong and unequivocally calling the Kremlin out for its atrocities in Ukraine, and for worsening the global food crisis through an unprovoked war of aggression,” Blinken told the council. “More concretely, members of the council, and for that matter, every UN member state should pressure Russia to stop actions that are making the food crisis in Ukraine and around the globe worse than it already was.”

Emergency aid

The UN meeting comes as climate change and Covid-19 have conspired to increase the number of people living in acute food insecurity climbed from 135 million to 193 million – a 43 % increase – between 2019 and 2021.

The Ukraine invasion has only made things worse, with the Center for Global Development estimating that the subsequent increase in food prices could push 40 million people into extreme poverty.

The result: In the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa, one person is likely dying of hunger every 48 seconds, Oxfam and Save the Children said in a joint report issued on 17 May.

“We’re seeing acute hunger across large areas and affecting millions across Africa,” Lia Lindsey, Oxfam America’ senior humanitarian policy adviser, tells The Africa Report. “East and West Africa are being particularly impacted, as they rely so heavily on imports from Russia and Ukraine, as they are already face so many recurring pressures.”

To tackle the crisis, the US and the international community have pledged billions of dollars in aid.

The $2.6bn the US has already pledged includes funding for the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, a special authority of 2018 Farm Bill, to provide $670m in food assistance to five African countries facing severe food insecurity – Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan – along with Yemen.

And just this week Congress passed a $40bn emergency aid bill for Ukraine that sets aside about $5bn for global humanitarian aid. Provisions include $4.35bn for International Disaster Assistance to provide emergency food assistance to people around the world and $150m for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program to help Ukraine and other countries weather impacts from rising food prices.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General António Guterres on 19 May announced that the world body was releasing $30m from its Central Emergency Respond Fund (CERF) to meet “urgent food security and nutrition needs” in Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso, which he acknowledged was a “drop in the ocean.” That brings to $95m the CERF aid to the Sahel since the start of the year.

Blinken also asserted in remarks this week that an extra $5bn in funding for the Feed the Future program over five years that was announced last year, will expand to more countries, “primarily in Africa.”

Falling short

Despite the pledges, aid group say the international community risks falling short.

“The meetings to discuss global hunger at the UN are vital and overdue as the crisis continues to grow,” Lindsey says. “We welcome the United States’ leadership with meetings this week, as well as the $5 billion in funding just approved in the Senate. We need to see more urgent funding and coordinated action come out of these meetings to make sure we can save lives now – and that we can rebuild our systems so we never see this level of hunger ever again.”

The world cannot wait for a declaration of famine to act. By then, it will be too late.

Prior to the two-day meeting, 40 NGOs issued a joint statement calling on world leaders to take concrete steps including keeping ports and trade flows open; increasing aid; tailoring assistance, including cash handouts; and monitoring the risk of famine in conflict-ridden countries while punishing those who use hunger as a weapon. The statement also urges that food security be made a top priority at the G7 Leaders Summit in June and the General Assembly in September.

“The world cannot wait for a declaration of famine to act. By then, it will be too late,” they wrote. “We urge the international community to put the full force of resources, diplomacy, and policy action behind preventing large-scale loss of life due to hunger and promoting lasting food security for millions of people around the globe.”

The US-chaired Global Food Security Ministerial Meeting followed through on some of those recommendations by adopting a roadmap for global food security – call to action on 19 May that notably committing to “provide immediate humanitarian assistance, build resilience of those in vulnerable situations, support social protection and safety nets, and strengthen sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food systems.” 34 nations endorsed the text including the DRC, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.

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