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barren shelves

Empty shelves are seen in a supermarket in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, as the Russian invasion continues on March 8, 2022. (Photo: Mykhaylo Palinchak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

UN Food Aid Official Warns Ukraine Supply Chain 'Falling Apart'

The World Food Program's coordinator for the crisis also raised concern about the impact on "food security globally, especially hunger hot spots."

Jessica Corbett

Russia's war is devastating food supply chains across Ukraine, leaving barren shelves at the grocery stores and warehouses that are still standing, a United Nations hunger official told reporters Friday.

"Movements of goods have slowed down due to insecurity and the reluctance of drivers."

"The country's food supply chain is falling apart. Movements of goods have slowed down due to insecurity and the reluctance of drivers," said Jakob Kern, U.N. World Food Program (WFP) emergency coordinator for the Ukraine crisis, according to Reuters.

The WFP official specifically expressed alarm about "encircled cities" such as Mariupol, which has endured intense shelling by Russian forces, impeding efforts to evacuate civilians from the port city.

Underscoring the need for a "meaningful sustained political process to enable a peaceful settlement," Rosemary DiCarlo, the United Nations political chief, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Mariupol "residents who have not been able to safely evacuate lack food, water, electricity, and medical care" while "uncollected corpses lie on city streets."

Seeking food can be dangerous and even deadly for people across Ukraine. As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, at least 10 people died in a Russian attack on Chernihiv while waiting in line for bread, similar to a March 3 strike—and potential war crime—in the city that claimed 47 lives.

Despite dangers from the ongoing Russian assault—which has killed at least hundreds of civilians and damaged $100 billion worth of infrastructure—the WFP is providing emergency food assistance to the people in Ukraine, with operational bases set up in three locations.

While "the encircled city of Mariupol is running out of its last reserves of food and water," the WFP said in a statement Friday, "Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa, Dnipro, and Sumy are partially encircled but can be reached through commercial transport."

During the briefing, Kern further warned of "collateral hunger" beyond the war-torn country, saying that "with global food prices at an all-time high, WFP is also concerned about the impact of the Ukraine crisis on food security globally, especially hunger hot spots."

Due to inflation and the war in Ukraine—which comes in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—the WFP is spending an extra $71 million per month on food, he noted.

"We are changing suppliers now but that has an impact on prices," Kern said. "The further away you buy it, the more expensive it gets."

Kern's comments come after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this week similarly raised concern about how the war will negatively impact global food supply chains.

"Russia and Ukraine represent more than half of the world's supply of sunflower oil and about 30% of the world's wheat. Ukraine alone provides more than half of the World Food Program's wheat supply," Guterres said. "All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe."

Appearing on Democracy Now! Friday, Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and a research professor at the University of Texas at Austin, explained how farmers and working-class people globally would be affected by rising food prices.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization projected last week that disruptions to food production and exports in both Russia and Ukraine "could push up international food and feed prices by 8% to 22% above their already elevated levels," with significant consequences for the Global South.

As David Beasley, the WFP's executive director, put it earlier this month: "The bullets and bombs in Ukraine could take the global hunger crisis to levels beyond anything we've seen before."

This post has been updated with comment from Raj Patel.

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