UKRAINE WAR EXPLODES GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: Millions at risk of starvation by Russian Blockade of Ukraine

“We’re running out of time and the impact of inaction will be felt around the world for years to come”

David Beasley, Executive Director, WFP

Arete is the expert storytelling agency for NGOs, UN bodies and foundations. We specialise in directing attention to the world’s crises where millions of people are put at risk.

This month, Arete is focussing on the millions suffering from global food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine, struggling to feed themselves and their families.

Russia invaded Ukraine four months ago, plunging Europe into its worst war since 1945. As well as the suffering of millions of Ukrainians, the dead, the wounded, the divided families, the refugees, shattered lives, the ramifications are spreading far wider. According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), millions of people all over the world are now at risk of starvation as a result of Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports.

Before the war, 11% of the world’s grain was provided by Ukraine, according to WFP — the world’s largest humanitarian agency focused on hunger and food security — with 400 million people a year fed by staples like wheat shipped from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Crucially, according to the WFP, 40% of the wheat that provided staples for its emergency food relief programmes came from Ukraine. As a result, as a knock-on effect of Putin’s invasion and blockade, the WFP says that 44 million people globally are at risk of starvation, in countries such as Mali, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. These are fragile countries, riven by complicated political, social and environmental forces — and of course still recovering from the economic devastation of the covid 19 pandemic. Many of them are also facing severe drought.

These food shortages are on top of the suffering caused by the global rise in fuel prices, created by the war in Ukraine.

Russia has so far ignored the WFP’s calls for the blockade to be lifted and the situation, says the WFP, is urgent.

David Beasley (centre of shot) on a WFP visit to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2021.
Photo: Sadeq Naseri / WFP / Arete

Arete is working closely with WFP, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), World Health Organisation (WHO) and other NGOs, providing both first person testimonials and powerful images to shed light on the suffering of individuals suffering food insecurity — and the risk of starvation — compounded by the war in Ukraine:


In March, the UN reported that “A staggering 95 per cent of Afghans are not getting enough to eat, with that number rising to almost 100 per cent in female-headed households”. According to the WFP, the war in Ukraine, on top of Covid-19 and drought, has left 23 million with food insecurity in Afghanistan.

“It is a figure so high that it is almost inconceivable. Yet, devastatingly, it is the harsh reality,” said the deputy head of the UN assistance mission, UNAMA.

In March, at an emergency pledging conference, the UN only raised half of the $4.4bn it had asked from world leaders to help alleviate the crisis: the war in Ukraine was diverting vital aid and attention away from the situation in Afghanistan, a country which only weeks before the Russian invasion had being heavily covered by the media.

Darya and some of her ten children at home in Mazar-e-Sharif. The family are dependent on DEC’s aid packages, May 2022.
Photo: Muhammad Muhsen Rasekh / DEC / Arete

Darya and her family are just a few of the millions at risk of starvation if the blockade on Ukraine’s grain exports is not lifted. Darya is 43 years old. She lives with her husband, five of her ten children and mother-in-law in a rented house in Mazar-e-Sharif. Although Afghanistan does grow wheat, a combination of drought and conflict have severely impacted grain production. Darya moved there from Dawlat Abad district two years ago to escape drought and poverty, where her husband, who is now in his sixties, was becoming too frail to work as a casual agricultural labourer. Her five daughters are now married with their own husbands and families.

Darya and her family are beneficiaries of Islamic Relief’s DEC funded humanitarian aid project. Darya was earning $1–2 a day, doing laundry and baking for families in their neighbourhood. They depend on the food they receive from Islamic Relief: 100kg flour, 6kg oil, 7kg peas:

“Before we received this, our life was extremely hard and I strugged to feed my children,” said Darya. “Now they have access to nutritious food.”

Workers load sacks of fortified wheat flour onto trucks at a WFP warehouse facility in Kabul, May 2021. Families like Darya’s depend on this grain. Shortages and rising costs of wheat have put increased strain on its ability to provide vital aid in Afghanistan.
Photo: Andrew Quilty / WFP / Arete
Mohammad is pictured in his wheat field that is irrigated by the “Unity Canal” in the village of Dasht-e Rof in Takhar province’s Kalafgan district in Afghanistan, May 2021. With the support of WFP, the “Unity Canal” was built to irrigate farmland for the communities in the district and surrounding districts, thereby helping to bring about an end to the animosity between various groups.
Photo: Andrew Quilty / WFP / Arete

WFP has worked in Afghanistan since 1963. Their work helps to ensure that aid reaches the people most affected by conflict and disastery. They support projects that help transform the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities, with a special focus on women.

Rations of high protein baby food at a Targeted Supplementary Feeding Programme health clinic in Aten Jelow village in Badakhshan province’s Argo district in Afghanistan, May 2021.
Photo: Andrew Quilty / WFP / Arete
Hijran is measured by a doctor while he assesses her for signs of malnutrition at a Targeted Supplementary Feeding Programme health clinic in Aten Jelow village in Badakhshan province’s Argo district in Afghanistan, May 2021. First, Hijran’s height, weight and upper arm circumference were measured and, with those measurements indicating moderate malnutrition, rations of high protein baby food were supplied.
Photo: Andrew Quilty / WFP / Arete
Bibi, is pictured in a small room in her home where she makes dairy products such as yoghurt in Takhar province’s Kalafgan district in Afghanistan, May 2021. WFP provided her with training in dairy production as well as equipment, which she uses for production. Bibi is providing income for her family by selling the dairy products at the local bazaar.
Photo: Andrew Quilty / WFP / Arete

Here is how you can support the WFP in Afghanistan:


Salado Ibrahim Maney and two of her children in Baidoa, Somalia.
Photo: Ismail Taxta /WHO /Arete

Salado Ibrahim Maney is just one of the hundreds of thousands in Somalia whose families depend on international aid because of the uncertainty caused by both years of conflict and drought. The 40 year old mother of seven fled her home, in Dinsoor, and walked to Baidoa with her children, because of the drought.

“This drought is much worse than the previous ones,” said Salado. “It’s the worst I’ve experienced in my life. There’s much less food and water. We are in desperate need. We have no shelter and we had to leave most of our belongings behind when we left. I fled carrying my stuff on my back and my children round my neck. I’ve nothing left.”

Salado lost her livestock and couldn’t farm her land because of lack of rain. “There is no life without food and water,” she said. Her children have been vaccinated and given medical help by the WHO, but they still have no shelter and have to sleep outside. “We are also still desperately in need of food. We need aid agencies to support us during this drought, and to help us rebuild our livestock herds too.”


Afolabi is weighed at the Lagos Food Bank Initiative’s nutrition centre in Lagos. Afolabi is one of the children enrolled in the Lagos Food Bank Initiative’s nutrition programme. WFP continues to support people in Lagos with nutritional support.
Photo: Damilola Onafuwa / WFP Nigeria / Arete

Conflict in Nigeria’s North-East region has displaced more than 3 million people (UNHCR) and left another 14.4 million without food security (FAO). This has been made worse by Covid-19 and drought. On top of this, the food shortages and resulting price rises caused by the Ukraine war have all had a devastating impact on people’s lives. The FAO predicts that 19.4 million Nigerians could face food insecurity by August 2022.

Newly arrived internally displaced women and children walk through a part of the Maiduguri IDP camp in Borno state, North-Eastern Nigeria, June 2021.
Photo: Siegfried Modola / WFP / Arete
Bags of millet at the WFP warehouse in Maiduguri, Nigeria, September 2021, before the conflict in Ukraine had escalated. Ukraine was one of the world’s main sources of millet before the Russian invasion.
Photo: Bernard Kalu / WFP / Arete

WFP combines food support with cash transfers to support displaced and vulnerable people in Nigeria. To the most vulnerable and remote groups, especially young children, WFP distributes Specialized Nutritious Food — which has been proven to significantly reduce malnutrition. Specialized Nutritious Food is highly dependent on grains such as wheat, now currently globally in short supply because of the blockade in Ukraine. WFP also works with the Nigerian Government and partner organisations to prepare longer-term interventions and build resilience.

Baba brings his Cash ID to a retailer point to redeem his monthly food items in Bama, Nigeria. WFP provides cash support to the most vulnerable people in Bama, Nigeria.
Photo: Emmanuella Boamah / WFP / Arete
Aisha, 25, feeds her son Sadiki, 1 with Plumpy’Nut, a peanut-based paste in a plastic wrapper for treatment of severe acute malnutrition, as she and other newly arrived internally displaced mothers with their children attend a WFP famine assessment and nutritional needs exercise in an IDP camp in Bama, Borno state in North-Eastern Nigeria, June 2021.
Photo: Siegfried Modola / WFP / Arete
A fish farmer receives money from a customer who comes to buy fish at a Christian Aid aquaculture centre in Malakalare, Maiduguri, Nigeria on 26 April 2022. Christian Aid is a long-standing partner organisation of WFP.
Photo: Emmanuella Boamah / WFP / Arete

Here is how you can support the WFP in Nigeria:

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948. Covid 19 has severely impacted the country’s economic outlook, and reduced agricultural production. In addition, scarcity of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the local currency have caused food shortages and a spike in the cost of living (WFP). The monthly cost of a nutritious diet has increased by 156%, while income has fallen in at least 62% of households (UNICEF). A sharp rise in oil and gas prices, also connected to the conflict in Ukraine, has contributed to the crisis.

A vegetable vendor sorts his produce at the Pettah Market in Colombo, June 2022. With the depreciation of local currency and falling earnings already making food unaffordable, the increase in oil prices (related to the conflict in Ukraine) along with the global shortage of imported grain have severely compounded the problem.
Photo: Tashiya de Mel / WFP / Arete

Malnutrition rates in Sri Lanka were already high before the economic crisis, the pandemic, and the invasion of Ukraine. Sri Lankan women and children suffered from far higher rates of malnutrition than most other middle-income countries, with 17 per cent of children under five too short because of stunting (WFP).

Trishaws line up in a fuel queue in Colombo, June 2022. Since this photo was taken all sales of fuel have been suspended in Sri Lanka due to severe shortage.
Photo: Tashiya de Mel / WFP / Arete
Damayanthi, mother of two, cooks on a wood-fired stove outside her home due to gas shortages, Colombo, June 2022.
Photo: Tashiya de Mel / WFP / Arete
People line up with their gas cylinders in a queue for several hours, Colombo, June 2022.
Photo: Tashiya de Mel / WFP / Arete

WFP supports Sri Lanka’s national health system in preventing and managing malnutrition, including improving access for families to fortified foods; many of these foods are highly dependent on WFP grain imported from Ukraine. WFP also works with the Sri Lankan Government on safety net programmes to protect families in emergencies, but the current crisis rapidly getting worse by the day.

Volunteers hand out free meals to a community kitchen in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 2022.
Photo: Tashiya de Mel / WFP / Arete

Here is how you can support the WFP in Sri Lanka:


The war in Ukraine is not only causing grief and destruction to millions of Ukrainians. Its knock on effects — grain shortages and fuel inflation — are putting millions globally at risk from hunger and poverty. It is vitally important that those people’s stories are told in a way that can grab the world’s attention.

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