Ukraine, food security in the spotlight during UN Leaders Week


This year’s annual gathering of leaders at the United Nations General Assembly takes place in the shadow of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and as the war in Ukraine approaches a potentially crucial period.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will skip the Queen’s funeral to stay in New York to oversee an education summit on Monday. He will then take part in the opening of the annual debate on Tuesday morning, telling reporters it was “unbelievable” that he would miss it.

US President Joe Biden as the leader of the host country would traditionally be the second head of state to address the assembly on Tuesday, but since he will attend Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday, US officials say his speech will now shift to Wednesday.

Spotlight

Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will come to New York, but despite this, their conflict will dominate the agenda.

“I think Joe Biden and other Western leaders are going to use that as an opportunity to get angry at Russia over this war,” Richard Gowan, director of the International Crisis Group at the United Nations, told VOA.

He said Western leaders would also seek to garner support from some non-Western countries they feel are trying to avoid taking sides or criticizing Russia.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield told reporters on Friday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “tests the basic principles on which the United Nations was founded.” She urged the international community not to abandon these values.

“We must redouble our commitment to a peaceful world, and further cement our firm principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, peace and security,” she said.

This is why the next week is so important. We believe this is a moment to stand up for the United Nations and to prove to the world that it can still meet the most pressing global challenges.”

On Thursday, the UN Security Council will hold a ministerial-level meeting to discuss the situation. It may witness some heated exchanges between Russian and Western officials. There will also be a separate side event that day on accountability for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

But despite what many meetings and events around the conflict will be, even the Secretary-General is not optimistic that there will be an opportunity for any leading diplomat to be on the sidelines of the annual debate.

“My good offices are ready, but I have no illusions…At the moment, the chances of a peace agreement are slim,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

food crisis

The Russian invasion of Ukraine sent global food, fertilizer, and fuel prices soaring, pushing fragile countries over the edge.

World Food Program chief David Beasley warns that as many as 345 million people in 82 countries are acutely food insecure, or “walking toward starvation.”

Somalia is one of the worst off.

Four failed rainy seasons led to an unprecedented drought. Eight million people could soon face starvation if the October rains fail as expected.

“In total, 300,000 people are expected in IPC 5 conditions between October and December,” FAO’s chief economist, Maximo Torero, told members of the UN Security Council on Thursday.

IPC 5 is the human classification for famine.

In 2011-2012 more than 250,000 Somalis died from starvation. In 2016, there were fears it would recur, but international donors rallied to prevent the worst outcomes.

Today, leaders know they need to act fast.

Somalia has sent its Special Envoy for Drought Response to New York to mobilize international support.

“Food is available inside the country – what we need is cash,” Abdul Rahman Abdul Shakoor told VOA.

He warns that if an expanded humanitarian response does not occur in the next few weeks, people will die.

“The famine is real – it happens,” he said.

A high-level meeting will be held on Wednesday on responding to urgent needs in the Horn of Africa.

As for rising global food prices, the United States, the African Union, the European Union and Spain will chair the Food Security Summit tomorrow, Tuesday.

“It brings both the South as well as countries – developing countries and donor countries – together in the room to address these issues and how to move forward,” said Ambassador Thomas Greenfield. “So that we can avoid the crisis we are already going through at the moment and see if we can improve the situation in the coming months.”

improve market offer

The United Nations is counting on a package deal brokered with the help of Turkey and agreed to by Ukraine and Russia, to put more grain on the world market and lower food prices.

The deal, signed on July 22 in Istanbul, allows Ukraine’s grain exports from its Black Sea ports, which Russia has closed. A separate agreement seeks to remove obstacles to Russian fertilizer and food exports from reaching world markets. Although they are not subject to Western sanctions, some shipping and insurance companies have been reluctant to do business with Russian companies for fear of conflict with other sanctions targeting Moscow.

To date, more than 3 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain have reached markets in more than 30 countries through the deal, which has led to lower food prices.

“International prices have gone down, but it is true that prices at the domestic level have not yet seen the drop we have seen in the international market,” said Rebecca Greenspan, chair of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, who helped negotiate. Deal.

It is also working to get more Russian fertilizers to market, to ease prices, which it says are currently three times higher than they were before the pandemic. If farmers cannot buy fertilizer, their crop yields may be reduced, leading to food shortages next year.

“Fertilizers are a very important part of this deal,” Greenspan said.

multiplicity of crises

While Ukraine may monopolize the spotlight during the high-level week, there is no shortage of other pressing issues, crises and conflicts for leaders to discuss.

Many will come in one-on-one meetings between senior leaders. Others will get a wider frame.

Ahead of the general debate, Secretary-General Guterres is holding an education summit to address the massive disruption that the pandemic has caused in education. The United Nations says 244 million young people around the world are still out of school.

A new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that only a third of 10-year-olds worldwide can read and understand a simple written story. This is half of what it was before the pandemic.

This is the first year that leaders have met again in New York in person in large numbers since the pandemic began in 2020, and while COVID-19 will not be in the spotlight, recovery from the pandemic will be part of the economic and health discussions.

So is the climate crisis.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has just returned from Pakistan, where a third of the country has been inundated by deadly floods.

“What is happening in Pakistan shows the utter inadequacy of the global response to the climate crisis and the betrayal and injustice at its heart,” he told reporters.

He will use his platform to lobby for more investments in climate adaptation and mitigation in the poorest countries, which have been less contributors to climate change.

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