Russia’s war on Ukraine creates a global food crisis that the United States must address

We have all seen videos of innocent victims of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, as this war continues, there may be millions of additional casualties – those who depend on Ukrainian agricultural exports for their livelihood.

Ukraine has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe”, due to its fertile fields and strong agricultural exports. Besides Russia’s huge agricultural sector, the two countries together produce nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley and nearly half of sunflower oil.

Now, five months into the war, many fields of Ukraine have been left without water and many grain storage and processing facilities have been destroyed. Only recently harvested Ukrainian grain could easily be exported again after a naval blockade of Ukraine’s main port city of Odessa by Russia.

A recent agreement between Ukraine and Russia, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, is starting to bring grain to world markets again, but Russia continues to damage Ukraine’s grain supplies, killing the owner of one of Ukraine’s largest grain producers and exporting companies recently when it hit The coastal city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine with 50 missiles.

Recognizing the impending crisis, the United States and its allies bolstered Ukraine’s road freight network and helped expand grain storage capacity ahead of the summer harvest. However, these efforts cannot make up for the shortfall caused by the war – a shortfall whose consequences could be devastating in countries far from Eastern Europe.

While the Biden administration has worked to expand U.S. food aid around the world, the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine have led to growing food shortages in places already facing extreme food insecurity, such as Yemen and Afghanistan, where prices are rising, local conflicts, and extreme weather events to increasing levels of hunger. Now this crisis has been greatly exacerbated by Putin’s war.

This is not just a problem for those countries directly affected by the food emergency. Growing hunger around the world has serious implications for the national security of the United States. Food insecurity exacerbates existing challenges such as poverty, violence, and social, ethnic and religious tensions. This, in turn, leads to political instability, which often leads to popular uprisings, terrorism and mass migration – both internally and externally.

Some suggest that this is part of Putin’s strategy to dismantle NATO. By creating food shortages that further destabilize and drive new waves of migrants into Europe, Putin hopes to fan the fires of intolerance and drive a wedge between allies. Countries that have done admirably in helping millions of refugees from neighboring Ukraine may reject another influx of refugees seeking to survive famine abroad. Meanwhile, Putin’s media operations in Africa seek to hold the West responsible for the food shortage.

A stork flies over a wheat field as agricultural company TVK Seed harvests wheat on July 29, 2022, near Mironivka, Ukraine.
Alexei Fuhrman/Getty Images

This pending crisis requires the United States to address the immediate need to prevent possible mass starvation in vulnerable parts of the world. We must increase food aid abroad at the same time that we plan for the national security implications of the global food crisis. Once mass starvation begins, it will be too late for an effective response.

In July, following a letter that I and a bipartisan group of House of Representatives sent to the Biden administration, USAID announced that it would provide $200 million to UNICEF to double global procurement and distribution of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). The gold standard for treating severe acute malnutrition in children. This follows a letter Congressman Chris Stewart (Republic of Utah) and I sent earlier this month calling on Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to provide Congress with strategic plans to address the growing international hunger crisis in the short, medium and long term. -term.

It is critical that the White House define its strategy now for how to continue to export grain from Ukraine while protecting the most vulnerable populations from the famine caused by the war. The United States has both a moral and a strategic duty to lead this crisis and prevent the suffering in Ukraine from spreading to other countries and regions. A more stable and peaceful world is in everyone’s interest, except for dictators and autocrats like Putin who thrive on fear, anger, and instability.

Rep. Raja Krishnamurthy (D-Illinois) is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He recently returned from an official visit to Poland and Germany to assess the Allied response to the war in Ukraine.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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