UN urges Ukraine grain release, warn of ‘mass hunger’ that could last for years

UN urges Ukraine grain release, warn of ‘mass hunger’ that could last for years
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, left, speaks during a ministerial meeting on growing food insecurity around the world on May 18, 2022, at the UN headquarters (AP)
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Updated 19 May 2022

UN urges Ukraine grain release, warn of ‘mass hunger’ that could last for years

UN urges Ukraine grain release, warn of ‘mass hunger’ that could last for years
  • UN chief says Russia-Ukraine war “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity”
  • Russia and Ukraine alone produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply

UNITED NATIONS: The UN warned Wednesday that a growing global food crisis could last years if it goes unchecked, as the World Bank announced an additional $12 billion in funding to mitigate its “devastating effects.”
Food insecurity is soaring due to warming temperatures, the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led to critical shortages of grains and fertilizer.
At a major United Nations meeting in New York on global food security, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity.”
He said what could follow would be “malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years,” as he and others urged Russia to release Ukrainian grain exports.
Russia and Ukraine alone produce 30 percent of the global wheat supply.
Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and international economic sanctions on Russia have disrupted supplies of fertilizer, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel, especially in developing nations.
Before the invasion in February, Ukraine was seen as the world’s bread basket, exporting 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce per month through its ports — 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.
But with the ports of Odessa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are far less efficient.
“Let’s be clear: there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production,” Guterres said.
“Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who chaired the summit, and World Food Programme head David Beasley echoed the call.
“The world is on fire. We have solutions. We need to act and we need to act now,” implored Beasley.
Russia is the world’s top supplier of key fertilizers and gas.
The fertilizers are not subject to the Western sanctions, but sales have been disrupted by measures taken against the Russian financial system while Moscow has also restricted exports, diplomats say.
Guterres also said Russian food and fertilizers “must have full and unrestricted access to world markets.”

Food insecurity had begun to spike even before Moscow, which was not invited to Wednesday’s UN meet, invaded its neighbor on February 24.
In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled — from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today, according to the UN.
More than half a million people are living in famine conditions, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2016, the world body says.
The World Bank’s announcement will bring total available funding for projects over the next 15 months to $30 billion.
The new funding will help boost food and fertilizer production, facilitate greater trade and support vulnerable households and producers, the World Bank said.
The bank previously announced $18.7 billion in funding for projects linked to “food and nutrition security issues” for Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.
Washington welcomed the decision, which is part of a joint action plan by multilateral lenders and regional development banks to address the food crisis.
The Treasury Department described Russia’s war as “the latest global shock that is exacerbating the sharp increase in both acute and chronic food insecurity in recent years” as it applauded institutions for working swiftly to address the issues.
India over the weekend banned wheat exports, which sent prices for the grain soaring.
The ban was announced Saturday in the face of falling production caused primarily by an extreme heatwave.
“Countries should make concerted efforts to increase the supply of energy and fertilizer, help farmers increase plantings and crop yields, and remove policies that block exports and imports, divert food to biofuel, or encourage unnecessary storage,” said World Bank President David Malpass.

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Libyan rival officials meet for UN-led talks on elections

Libyan rival officials meet for UN-led talks on elections
Updated 21 sec ago

Libyan rival officials meet for UN-led talks on elections

Libyan rival officials meet for UN-led talks on elections
GENEVA: Two senior Libyan officials began two days of talks Tuesday on constitutional arrangements for elections, the latest UN effort to bridge gaps between the country’s rivals.
Aguila Saleh, the influential speaker of the country’s east-based parliament, and Khaled Al-Meshri, head of the government’s Supreme Council of State, based in the west, in the capital of Tripoli, met at the UN headquarters in Geneva.
According to the United Nations, the talks will focus on a draft constitutional framework for elections after Libya’s rival factions failed to reach an agreement in their last round of talks in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.
Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, said they would discuss “timelines, modalities and milestones to guarantee a clear path to the holding of national elections as soon possible.”
“It is now the time to make a final and courageous effort to ensure that this historic compromise takes place, for the sake of Libya, the Libyan people and the credibility of its institutions,” she said.
The criteria for a presidential candidacy were a contentious point in the talks, according to Libyan media. The Tripoli-based council insisted on banning military personal from running for the country’s top post — apparently a move directed at the divisive commander Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are loyal to the east-based administration.
Haftar had announced his bid in elections slated for last December but the vote was not held because of myriad issues, including controversial hopefuls who had announced bids and disputes about election laws.
There are growing tensions on the ground, and sporadic clashes between rival militias recently erupted in Tripoli. Living conditions have also deteriorated, mainly because of fuel shortages in the oil-rich nation. Tribal leaders have shut down many oil facilities, including the country’s largest field.
The blockade was largely meant to cut off key state revenues to the incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who has refused to step down even though the vote was not held in December.
Now, Dbeibah and another prime minister, Fathy Bashagha, appointed by the east-based parliament to lead a transitional government, are claiming power. The rivalry has sparked fears the oil-rich country could slide back to fighting after tentative steps toward unity last year.
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.

Belgium busts drug lab on air base housing US nukes

Belgium busts drug lab on air base housing US nukes
Updated 52 min 12 sec ago

Belgium busts drug lab on air base housing US nukes

Belgium busts drug lab on air base housing US nukes
  • Two suspects -- not military personnel -- were arrested during the raid
  • Local police had discovered the drug lab on military land on June 22

BRUSSELS: Belgian police raided an illegal lab producing the rave drug ecstasy on an air base that reputedly houses part of the US nuclear arsenal in Europe, investigators said Tuesday.
Two suspects — not military personnel — were arrested during the raid, according to a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office in the Belgian province of Limburg.
The Kleine-Brogel base in northeast Belgium is best known for housing a stock of US nuclear weapons.
Belgian officials are discreet about the deployment, having briefly confirmed its role in the 1980s, but in 2019 a Green MP told parliament that US forces hold ten to 20 warheads there.
Prosecutors said that local police had discovered the drug lab on military land on June 22 and that it had been dismantled by specialist federal officers.
The lab was found to produce MDMA, a synthetic recreational drug most commonly known as ecstasy.
The Kleine-Brogel air base is often a target of Belgian anti-nuclear and anti-NATO protesters.
It is in a rural area between the port city of Antwerp and the border with Germany’s industrial heartland, an area dotted by labs and hideouts used by international drug gangs.


UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran

UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran
Updated 28 June 2022

UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran

UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran
  • Questions raised over Britain’s response to Tehran ‘hostage-taking’

LONDON: UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss has struggled to reveal the exact number of British detainees still being held in Iran.

During a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Truss was asked how many detainees are being held hostage by Tehran and what progress the UK government is making in freeing them.

She claimed that the government is “continuing to press Iran on the release of all detainees.”

But concerns have been raised that families of detained individuals may avoid publicizing their cases out of fear of the UK Foreign Office’s reaction.

Pressure from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International was said to be behind the UK government push to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori earlier this year.

During the committee meeting, Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said: “The purpose of the Foreign Office is to keep British nationals safe abroad.”


Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21
Updated 28 June 2022

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21
  • Japan will hold the rotating presidency of the G-7 major powers next year

MUNICH: Japan will host the 2023 Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima on May 19-21, Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio said Tuesday.
Japan will hold the rotating presidency of the G-7 major powers next year. Kishida is a lawmaker elected from a constituency in the western Japan city, hit by a US atomic bomb in August 1945 near the end of World War II.
Toward the Hiroshima summit, “we’ll make sure to deepen discussions on realistic measures toward the achievement of a world without nuclear weapons,” Kishida told a news conference in the German city of Munich after attending a three-day G-7 summit in Schloss Elmau, also Germany.
“We want to show the world a powerful commitment never to repeat the horror of nuclear weapons” at the Hiroshima summit, he stressed.
On domestic issues, Kishida said the government will help lower electricity bills by building a framework effective in easing tight electricity supplies and curbing electricity prices.


First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs
Updated 28 June 2022

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs
  • 960 pilgrims out of Sri Lanka’s quota of 1,585 will head to Makkah this year
  • Worshippers must pay travel costs in foreign currency amid worsening economic crisis

COLOMBO: The first group of Sri Lankans departed for Hajj on Tuesday despite earlier plans to forgo the pilgrimage as the country confronts its worst-ever economic crisis.

Last month, Sri Lanka’s umbrella association of pilgrimage organizers said that its members would suspend operations because the cost of sending worshippers to Makkah would be too high for the country to bear.

The island nation is struggling to deal with the worst financial downturn since independence in 1948 and has already defaulted on foreign debt repayments.

But earlier in June, the government announced Muslims would be allowed to perform Hajj this year provided they pay their travel costs in foreign currency.

“We are undergoing a huge economic crisis, still we want to respect the values and sentiments of the Muslims, therefore we allowed them to go even under trying circumstances,” Religious Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake told Arab News. 

“We are confident that their prayers will go a long way in getting out of this crisis.”

One of Islam’s five pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020. The Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants in 2021, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

This year, after lifting most of its coronavirus curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million domestic and foreign pilgrims.

Sri Lanka, where Muslims make up almost 10 percent of the country’s predominantly Buddhist population of 22 million, has been allocated a quota of 1,585 pilgrims to perform Hajj. But with inflation now running at 40 percent, the cost is too high for many to bear and only about 960 are expected to travel.

The pilgrimage this year costs five times more than in 2019, according to Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, who oversees Hajj logistics at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  

“Although the quota is given, the cost of the pilgrimage this year has multiplied five times more than the cost two years ago, which was only 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($1,387),” he told Arab News. 

Ansar added that most of the pilgrims from Sri Lanka this year are seniors, who fear that next time they will not meet the official 65-year age limit. 

“I was waiting for this opportunity for the past two years,” said Farzan Huzair, who was among the 50 pilgrims departing from Colombo on Tuesday. ”I was also afraid that I won’t be able to perform Hajj after age 65.”  

Huzair told Arab News that he viewed Hajj as “a golden opportunity,” adding: “I collected the money over the years to fulfill my lifelong dream.” 

Rizmi Reyal, who heads the Sri Lanka Hajj Travel Operators Association, said that he will be praying for his country. 

“All praise is due to Allah for the opportunity given for the Lankan pilgrims to perform Hajj this year,” he said.

“I am going for this year’s Hajj with my wife, solely to pray for my country, which is facing a severe economic crisis.”