Secretary-General António Guterres addressed correspondents outside the Security Council chamber in New York, and said that with each passing hour in Ukraine, the death and destruction is getting worse: “Whatever the outcome, this war will have no winners, only losers.”
Roads, airports, schools, lie in ruins, due to Russia’s invasion, with at least 24 health facilities suffering attacks, while hundreds of thousands are now without water or electricity.
Mr. Guterres said the UN and humanitarian partners were working “to ensure safe passage from besieged areas, and to provide aid where security permits, allowing around 600,000 to receive some form of aid since the bombardment began.
He announced the release of a further $40 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to ramp up vital assistance, but noted that “the avenues in and out of encircled cities, are more precarious by the day.”
The nearly two million now displaced inside the country, and close to three million who have become refugees in the past two weeks – the vast majority women and children – are becoming increasingly vulnerable, he warned.
“For predators and human traffickers, war is not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. And women and children are the targets. They need safety and support every step of the way. I will continue to highlight the desperate plight of the people of Ukraine as I am doing again today.”
Assault on the world’s most vulnerable
Besides the hour-to-hour devastation inside Ukraine, the UN chief said the war was reaching far beyond its borders, with a Sword of Damocles now hanging over the global economy – “especially the developing world”.
For months now, developing countries have been struggling to recover from the pandemic – with record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens, while their ability to respond has been “erased by exponential increases in the cost of financing.
“Now their breadbasket is being bombed”, he said.
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, noting that Ukraine alone provides more than half of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) wheat supply.
“Food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing. Supply chains are being disrupted. And the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels.
“All of this is hitting the poorest the hardest and planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.”
Avert ‘hurricane of hunger’
He said 45 African and least developed countries import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia, with 18 of those, import at least 50 percent.
“We must do everything possible to avert a hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system. In addition, we are seeing clear evidence of this war draining resources and attention from other trouble-spots in desperate need.
Mr. Guterres called on countries to find creative ways to finance increased humanitarian and development recovery needs worldwide, to give generously and immediately release pledged funds.
“In a word, developing countries are getting pummelled. They face a cascade of crises – beyond the Ukraine war, we cannot forget COVID and the impacts of climate change – in particular, drought.”
New crisis response group
As a direct response, he announced the establishment of a new UN Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, based at the Secretariat in New York, to be overseen by Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed.
He said the war also showed “how the global addiction to fossil fuels is placing energy security, climate action and the entire global economy at the mercy of geopolitics.”
And with the Russian President Vladimir Putin raising the alert level of his country’s nuclear forces, the UN chief described it as a “bone-chilling development.”
The prospect of a nuclear war, “once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility. The security and safety of nuclear facilities must also be preserved”. He added.
“It is time to stop the horror unleashed on the people of Ukraine and get on the path of diplomacy and peace”, he said, noting that he had been in close contact with countries including China, France, Germany, India, Israel and Turkey – on mediation efforts to end Russia’s invasion.
“The appeals for peace must be heard. This tragedy must stop. It is never too late for diplomacy and dialogue. We need an immediate cessation of hostilities and serious negotiations based on the principles of the UN Charter and international law.”
We need peace now, he added. “Peace for the people of Ukraine. Peace for our world.”