BULLA HAGAR, Kenya — The United States is preparing to buy about 150,000 tons of grain from Ukraine in the coming weeks for an upcoming food aid delivery from ports no longer blocked by war, program chief says world food to the Associated Press.
The grain’s final destinations are unconfirmed and discussions are ongoing, David Beasley said. But the planned shipment, one of many the UN hunger agency is pursuing, is more than six times the amount of grain that the first WFP-organized ship from Ukraine is currently carrying to the people in the Horn of Africa threatened with starvation.
Beasley spoke Friday from northern Kenya, mired in a drought gripping the Horn of Africa region. He sat under a thorny tree among local women who told the AP the last time it rained was in 2019.
Their parched communities face another failed rainy season within weeks that could tip parts of the region, especially neighboring Somalia, into famine. Already, thousands of people have died. According to the World Food Programme, 22 million people are hungry.
“I think there’s a high probability that we will have a declaration of famine” in the coming weeks, Beasley said.
He called the situation facing the Horn of Africa “a perfect storm upon a perfect storm, a tsunami upon a tsunami” as the drought-prone region struggles to cope amid high commodity prices. food and fuel driven in part by the war in Ukraine.
The long-awaited first aid ship from Ukraine is carrying 23,000 tons of grain, enough to feed 1.5 million people with full rations for a month, Beasley said. It is expected to dock in Djibouti on August 26 or 27, and the wheat is expected to be shipped overland to northern Ethiopia, where millions of people in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions have faced un only to drought, but also to deadly conflicts.
Ukraine was the source of half the grain the WFP bought last year to feed 130 million hungry people. Russia and Ukraine last month signed agreements with the UN and the Turkish government to allow Ukrainian grain exports for the first time since the Russian invasion in February.
But the slow reopening of Ukrainian ports and the careful movement of cargo ships through the mined Black Sea will not solve the global food security crisis, Beasley said. He warned that wealthier countries must do much more to keep grain and other aid flowing to the hungriest parts of the world, and he named names.
“With oil profits being so high right now — record profits, billions of dollars every week — … the Gulf States need to help, need to step up and do it now,” Beasley said. “It is inexcusable not to do so. Especially since they are their neighbors, they are their brothers, their family.
He claimed that the World Food Program could save “millions of lives” with just one day of oil profits from the Gulf countries.
China must also help, Beasley said.
“China is the second largest economy in the world, and we get a little from China,” or very little, he added.
Although grain is leaving Ukraine and hopes that global markets are beginning to stabilize, the world’s most vulnerable people face a long and difficult recovery, the WFP chief said.
“Even if this drought ends, we’re talking about a global food crisis for at least another 12 months,” Beasley said. “But when it comes to the poorest of the poor, it will take many years to get out.”
Some of the world’s poorest people without enough food are found in northern Kenya, where animal carcasses are slowly stripped to the bone under inclement skies. Millions of cattle, a source of wealth and nutrition for families, perished in the drought. Many water pumps have dried up. More and more thousands of children suffer from malnutrition.
“Don’t forget us,” resident Hasan Mohamud told Beasley. “Even the camels have disappeared. Even the donkeys succumbed.
With so many people in need, the help that arrives can disappear like a drop of rain in the sand. Local women who qualified for WFP cash distributions described taking the 6,500 shillings (about US$54) and sharing it with their neighbors – in one case, 10 households.
“The most interesting thing we hear is people saying, ‘We’re not the only ones,'” WFP program manager Felix Okech told The AP. “’We were selected (for the handouts), but there are many others like us.’ So it’s very humbling to hear.
In a small crowd that had gathered to listen to stories of children too weak to stand and dry milk, a woman at the edge of the woven plastic mat spoke. Sahara Abdilleh, 50, said she earns maybe 1,000 shillings ($8.30) a week collecting firewood, scouring a landscape that gives less and less each day. Like Beasley, she thought globally.
“Is there a country, like Afghanistan or Ukraine, that is worse than us?” she asked.
Follow all AP drought stories at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.
Follow all AP stories about the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.