UNITED NATIONS (AP): US Secretary of State Antony Blinken challenged all countries Thursday to tell Russia to stop using the Black Sea and Ukraine’s grain as “blackmail” and stop treating the world’s hungry and vulnerable people as leverage in its “unconscionable war.”
America’s top diplomat lashed out at Russia at a UN Security Council meeting for ignoring the world’s appeals and pulling out of the year-old deal that allowed Ukraine to ship more than 32 tons of grain from Black Sea ports to needy countries.
“And what has Russia’s response been to the world’s distress and outrage? Bombing Ukrainian granaries, mining port entrances, threatening to attack any vessel in the Black Sea,” he said.
Blinken was chairing the signature event of the United States’ council presidency this month on conflict as a key driver of hunger and famine.
He announced that the United States, which has provided more than $17.5 billion since January 2021 to address famine and food insecurity, will give $362 million more to tackle the drivers of hunger in Haiti and 11 African countries.
He pointed to the UN World Food Program, which said last week it needs $20 billion to deliver aid to everyone in need but was aiming for between $10 billion to $14 billion, the amount it has received in the past few years. So far this year, however, WFP said it had received only around $5 billion and therefore 38 of 86 countries where it operates have already seen cuts or are planning cuts in food assistance soon.
“The cost of that shortfall will be measured in growth stunted and in lives lost,” Blinken said.
He also implicitly criticized China, which is the world’s second-largest economic power behind the United States, saying: “The world’s largest economies should be the world’s largest donors, for member states to consider themselves global leaders. This is your chance to prove it.”
Blinken added that “All of us. All of us can dig deeper.”
At the start of the meeting, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement, approved by all 15 members, strongly condemning “the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare” and expressing concern at the growing number of armed conflicts all over the globe.
In 2022, “armed conflict was the most significant driver of high levels of acute food insecurity for roughly 117 million people in 19 countries and territories,” the council said, adding that an estimated 148.1 million children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth because of malnutrition.
The United States circulated a communique to the 193 UN member states seeking commitments “to take action to end the use of food as a weapon of war and the starvation of civilians as a tactic of warfare.” Blinken said 91 countries have signed, less than half the membership.
The Security Council statement stressed the need “to break the vicious cycle between armed conflict and food insecurity.”
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, reminded the council it called for that link to be broken five years ago, but today “there is more armed conflict, more famine, more malnutrition, and more and more food insecurity.”
He said every assessment has the same list of countries where conflict is driving hunger: Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Mali and Haiti.
Miliband called for action – not more words – to help the 375,000 people who faced famine-like conditions at the end of 2022 and the 35 million on the brink.
As an example, he said, 80 percent of acutely malnourished children aren’t getting any treatment because of divided approaches toward moderate and severe malnutrition. He said the solution is simply to put a tape around a child’s arm and measure the circumference to diagnose malnutrition and provide one or two doses of therapeutic food per day depending on whether the case is severe or moderate.
Miliband told the council there is also a proliferation of different global initiatives on famine and food insecurity. He called for a single body to galvanize collective action — the UN High Level Task Force on Preventing Famine established in 2021 and headed by Reena Ghelani.
Ghelani said international collaboration is essential. She told the council that in too many nutrition wards and camps for the displaced she has visited, the eerie silence of small children fighting for their lives who are too weak to cry because of malnutrition “never leaves you.”
“That silence is also a call for action,” she said. “Business as usual will not work.”
Representatives of 80 countries were on the list of speakers at the day-long council meeting.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky responded to the criticism over its withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal by claiming that it had become commercial, not humanitarian. He accused the West of becoming interested in the threat of world hunger “only insofar as they think they can attempt to exploit this topic to demonize Russia” and indulge their “pipe dreams” of defeating it in Ukraine.
Nonetheless, Polyansky held open the possibility of resuming the Black Sea deal if the West ensures that Russian grain and fertilizer can get to countries in need “without hindrance.”
Blinken told reporters after chairing the meeting that if Russia returns to the agreement, the US will continue “to do whatever is necessary to make sure that everyone can export their food and food products freely and safely, to include Russia.”
“We want to see that food on world markets,” he said. “We want everyone to benefit from the lower prices.”