UN Geneva round-up: food crisis continues in Ukraine, while little funding reaches Horn of Africa

Bread distribution in a subway station in Kharkiv, Ukraine on 11 March, 2022. (Credit: WFP Multimedia Hub)

A summary of the most critical issues being discussed at the United Nations in Geneva this week.

Worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Seven weeks into the conflict, Ukraine is the fastest growing humanitarian crisis in Europe since the second world war, Jakob Kern, the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) emergency coordinator in Ukraine told reports in Geneva on Tuesday. Kern warned that without unimpeded access to the most vulnerable regions, in such circumstances any illnesses that can be usually treated will become a life threatening situation.

“The problem is not availability of food, but rather the access to food, be it physically or economically,”a Kern reported. Of the 60,000 metric tonnes of food mobilised for Ukraine, over a third has been procured within the country.

However, as seaports remain blocked, the Ukrainian agricultural sector is facing a lack of storage for its surplus grain. Disruptions in grain export will prevent farmers from harvesting at cost, and limit their capacity to buy seeds for the next year’s crop, further adding to the global food shortage. The WFP has met the needs of 1.7m people, of which 1.4m are families trapped in encircled and partially encircled areas, and is looking to upscale its response.

Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported 147 verified attacks on health facilities, of which 132 have impacted hospitals. Bhanu Bhatnagar, WHO spokesperson, highlighted the need for access to vulnerable people, particularly in areas with active fighting.

The organisation is now focusing on prepositioning medical supplies in a network of warehouses particularly near encircled regions to mitigate threats to supply routes, Bhatnagar told the media briefing.

Deteriorating food security across the eastern Horn of Africa. As the fourth consecutive season of drought continues in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the number of hungry people threaten to spiral from the current estimation of 14 million to 20 million by the end of the year.

Michael Dunford, regional director of WFP in Eastern Africa, highlighted that international organisations in this region have received little funding. WFP has only received four per cent of the $130m in funds they requested in a public appeal in January.

Practically, this gap forces WFP to prioritise programmes over others, Dunford said. In Somalia, the organisation has prioritised treatment of malnutrition over its prevention. The higher costs of the treatment programs reduces the scale of the operation and leaves out much of the suffering population.

Both WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation highlighted the layered nature of the crisis in the Horn of Africa, which is reeling from the impact of Covid-19, lack of rains, rising food prices, desert locusts, as well as conflict and insecurity. These shocks are eroding the resilience that has been built over the last forty years, and a fourth dry season may lead the region’s spiral into a humanitarian crisis, Dunford warned.