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Global finance meeting focusses on war-driven food insecurity

WASHINGTON (AP) – Global finance leaders put the growing crisis over food insecurity and skyrocketing food prices at centre stage as members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank met in Washington and grappled with the brutal effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen convened a meeting yesterday with leaders from the IMF, World Bank, Group of Seven and Group of 20 global organisations to “call on international financial institutions to accelerate and deepen their response” to countries affected by food issues exacerbated by Russia’s aggression, the Treasury Department said.

Russia and Ukraine produce 14 per cent of the world’s wheat supply, according to the United Nations (UN), and the loss of commodities due to the war has resulted in soaring food prices and uncertainty about the future of food security globally, especially in impoverished countries.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index has made its biggest jump since its inception in 1990, reflecting an all-time high in the cost of vegetable oils, cereals and meat, according to the organisation.

A late March report from the organisation stated that the global number of undernourished people could increase by eight million to 13 million people into 2023, “with the most pronounced increases taking place in Asia-Pacific, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, and the Near East and North Africa. If the war lasts, impacts will go well beyond 2022/23”.

A combine harvests wheat near Pullman, Washington. PHOTO: AP

University of Massachusetts Amherst Crisis Management Specialist Anna Nagurney said yesterday’s meeting of global leaders was significant and “speaks to the growing fear and the increasing understanding that the world may be on the verge of a hunger catastrophe”.

Nagurney predicted that countries that have not yet provided clear support for Ukraine will come to realise that the food insecurity from a prolonged war in Ukraine will affect their own national stability and the welfare of their citizens.

“This may help to further isolate Russia both morally and economically,” she said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said on Monday the international coalition of countries imposing sanctions on Russia and its allies takes the food security threat seriously.

“One of the things we have to do is take practical steps to demonstrate that this system is helping the people who need it the most,” he said, which includes a “focus on those countries that are struggling to pay for things like bread for their people in light of the increase in commodities prices”.