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Nearly empty bucket with grains in South Sudan

Children collect grain from a food drop by the World Food Program on February 6, 2020 in Ayod County, South Sudan. (Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

UN Chief Warns of Impending 'Unprecedented Global Food Crisis'

"There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022," said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "And 2023 could be even worse."

Julia Conley

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for debt relief for the world's poorest countries on Friday as he warned that an "unprecedented global food crisis" that is already ravaging more vulnerable nations will also have severe impacts for the entire world.

The U.N. chief said Russia's invasion of Ukraine has significantly worsened disruptions to the food supply chain that had already been hard-hit by the droughts and extreme weather triggered by climate crisis as well as the coronavirus pandemic and persistent inequality.

With farmers across Ukraine unable to harvest wheat due to the war and countries across Europe and Central Asia relying on Russian fertilizer exports, the war has already caused a food access crisis that is "crushing" hundreds of millions of people in the Global South.

"There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022," said Guterres in an address to the U.N. Ministerial Conference. "And 2023 could be even worse."

With fertilizer and energy prices rising, he said, "all harvests will be hit, including rice and corn—affecting billions of people across Asia, Africa, and the Americas."

"This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage," Guterres added. "No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe."

The secretary-general's remarks came one day after UNICEF called for $1.2 billion in humanitarian aid from the G7 countries "to meet the urgent needs of eight million children at risk of death from severe wasting," which happens when children are too thin for their height—"the most visible and lethal form of undernutrition."

The crisis is most severe in "15 mainly African nations, such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, but also Afghanistan and Haiti," said the agency.

According to UNICEF, the global food crisis is "pushing one child per minute into severe malnutrition."

The U.N. chief noted on Friday that international negotiations are currently taking place regarding a deal that would "enable Ukraine to export food, not only by land but through the Black Sea, and... bring Russian food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions."

In addition, he said, "developed countries and international financial institutions need to make resources available to help governments support and invest in their people, leaving no one behind."

"Developing countries that face debt default must have access to effective debt relief to keep their economies afloat and their people thriving," said Guterres.

"We cannot accept mass hunger and starvation in the 21st century," he added.

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