Antonio Guterres says the least-developed countries import a lot of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia.
The United Nations chief has warned that Russia’s invasion attempt of Ukraine is holding “a sword of Damocles” over the global economy, especially over poor developing countries that face skyrocketing food, fuel and fertiliser prices.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Monday that “Russia and Ukraine represent more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and about 30 percent of the world’s wheat”.
He added: “Grain prices have already exceeded those at the start of the Arab Spring and the food riots of 2007-2008.”
Guterres said 45 least-developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and 18 import at least 50 percent.
These countries include Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, he said.
“All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe,” Guterres warned, saying the most vulnerable nations have already been trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and contend with record inflation, rising interest rates, and looming debt before the Ukraine war.
Guterres announced an additional $40m from the UN’s emergency fund to move critical supplies of food, water, and medicine into Ukraine, where at least 1.9 million people are displaced.
More than 2.8 million others have fled Ukraine to other countries.
A UN humanitarian staff report said in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol trapped civilians face life-threatening shortages of food, water, medicine and other basic necessities, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The UN has reached 600,000 people in Ukraine with some form of humanitarian assistance, he added, but the UN’s flash appeal for $1.1bn to assist six million people inside Ukraine for an initial three months has received only $219m so far. Haq urged countries that made pledges to turn them into cash.
On Sunday, three UN agencies appealed for an immediate end to attacks on healthcare facilities, saying since the start of the war 24 medical facilities and five ambulances were damaged or destroyed and at least 12 people were killed and 34 wounded.