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50M people ‘knocking on famine’s door’

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The war in Ukraine and its global fallout transfixed the meeting of world leaders at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly this year. When it wasn’t out front, it lurked in the background of virtually every speech.

There were near-unanimous calls for an end to the seven-month war, with rich and poor countries decrying the fallout from the conflict – widespread shortages and rising prices not only for food but for energy, inflation hitting the cost of living everywhere, and growing global inequality.

The speeches and side meetings produced no breakthroughs toward peace, but they did put the top diplomats from Russia and Ukraine in the same room for the first time in many months, however briefly.

And UN food chief David Beasley sounded an alarm that the war, on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has left 50 million people in 45 countries “knocking on famine’s door”.

He warned of starvation, destabilisation of nations, riots, and mass migration if help doesn’t arrive quickly.

A medic checks on a malnourished toddler at the Lodwar County Refferal Hospital in Turkana county. PHOTO: AFP

In his strongest, gloomiest speech since taking the helm of the UN in 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the six-day gathering telling leaders that the survival of humanity and the planet are at stake, and nations aren’t tackling the challenges to reverse course. “We are gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction,” he said. “Our world is in peril – and paralysed.”

General Assembly President Csaba Korösi said he heard, from leaders, a resounding message: that the war in Ukraine, whose effect is being felt around the world, must end.

“Yet be it the largest and the most acute, the war in Ukraine is one of nearly 30 armed conflicts worldwide,” Korösi said. “And none of them is improving.”

The Hungarian diplomat cited other takeaways from the high-level meeting: Climate change is destroying us, human rights must be improved and the UN must be modernised – particularly its 15-member security council, which must, he said, reflect “the realities of this century”.

The 77th UN General Assembly meeting returned to an in-person gathering for the first time in three years. It was entirely virtual in 2020 and hybrid in 2021.

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