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“The Famine Is Coming”: War in Ukraine & Climate Crisis Contribute to Food Insecurity in Somalia

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Image Credit: Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC

Experts are warning of a pending global food shortage due to the climate crisis, blocked grain shipments amid the Ukraine war, and a lack of humanitarian aid. Joining us from Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says poorer countries in Africa aren’t able to financially compete with richer countries to afford basic staples like wheat. Egeland calls on G7 countries to take immediate action to prevent a global famine — which he believes is still stoppable.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of hunger, we’re going to now look at the global food shortage. As experts warn of a pending global food shortage, not to mention the one that exists now, the United States and European Union have blamed Russia for preventing grain exports from Ukraine, which is one of the world’s top wheat suppliers. On Wednesday, Russia pushed back and blamed the food crisis on sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and European Union over its invasion of Ukraine.

This comes as the U.K. is offering to help escort Ukraine’s grain from its ports under a plan designed by the United Nations that’s designed to prevent a mass famine across Africa, where the Ukraine war has led to sharp increases in food prices. African countries import nearly half their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Almost all the wheat in Somalia comes from Ukraine and Russia, and the United Nations says as many as 13 million people there are already facing severe hunger amidst an ongoing drought.

On Monday, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia made an urgent call to drastically increase humanitarian aid in the region.

ADAM ABDELMOULA: One-point-five million children below the age of 5 are already malnourished, and we expect that 366,000 of them may not survive through the end of September of this year. … There are eight districts that are already in what is known in IPC 5. That is catastrophic. That is famine situation. That number is bound to increase, unless — unless — we are able to scale up our response plan in a very, very major way.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we continue with Jan Egeland in Mogadishu, Somalia. Jan Egeland is secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Again, welcome back to Democracy Now! You arrived earlier this week. What have you seen? How devastating is the problem? And how much of it relates to the war in Ukraine?

JAN EGELAND: Well, I’ve been — I’m now in Mogadishu, the capital, but I’ve been two days up in Baidoa, which is in one of the hardest-hit areas in central Somalia. What I saw there was heart-wrenching, really, mothers and fathers having walked for 250 kilometers, many of them, to save one child from dying from acute severe malnutrition, bringing them to the therapeutic feeding stations in Baidoa town. They told that they had more children at home that had not been able to escape these drought-stricken areas. It’s devastating, really.

It is a creeping, devastating drought, which is coming after four failed rainy seasons. So it’s climate change. It’s the climate change that we in the industrialized world caused. And who are dying from this? The children of Somalia, from a people who did nothing to cause climate change.

And then, again, we are underfunded. We have hundreds of aid workers on the ground, but very little funding for the lifesaving efforts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jan, could you speak specifically, first of all — obviously, climate change is a massive factor, but do you think that the war in Ukraine has exacerbated the situation because so much of Somalia’s wheat came from one of the two countries — both the countries together?

JAN EGELAND: It has. I mean, the food prices has more than doubled in some areas. The 90% of the wheat came from Ukraine, number one, and Russia, number two. That’s gone. So, the Somali traders now need to compete for grain with Norwegians and Swiss and others, who can afford high prices.

So, it’s two things, two external factors: the climate change, that leads to the drought, and the war in Europe, that leads to an exploding price — exploding prices for food, that is really causing this massive famine. And none of these factors were caused by the people.

And that’s why we’re hoping that the G7 nations, including the U.S., now in Germany this weekend, will stand by their pledge to not allow biblical famines in this century. At the moment, the famine is coming.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And in addition to that, another contributor, perhaps, is the fact that farmers across Africa have been reporting, in addition to, of course, the increase in prices of wheat, also as high as a 300% increase in the price of imported fertilizer. Could you talk about that?

JAN EGELAND: Yeah, and that is curbing food production in the continent of Africa, that could increase its food production and need to increase its food production. But again, in Somalia, the people I met are living from hand to mouth. They are living from goats and sheep and camels that have died from thirst and from drought. These are pastoralist farmers, as well, that did not use fertilizer. Here it is the lack of aid and the drought and the food price increase that is the enormous killer.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Jan, on the question of Ukraine, you were in the eastern part of the country earlier this year. What do you know of what’s happened since? You have your organization, the Norwegian Refugee Council, that’s working there, and millions and millions of refugees who have fled.

JAN EGELAND: I mean, we, the Norwegian Refugee Council, had our headquarters in the east of Ukraine, in Severodonetsk, that you have reported upon repeatedly because that city, that was a vibrant city — it was a city where we had 60 aid workers — is in ruins now. It’s completely destroyed. Ninety percent of all buildings are destroyed. And it’s now fighting house by house and cellar — basement by basement in the remaining parts of the city. It’s crossfire for the civilians there. We have been able to pre-position food in bomb shelters and so on, that people are surviving on at the time being. And remember, the people that have not fled, that are left behind, many of them are elderly and disabled. They are in a desperate situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Jan Egeland, we want to thank you for being with us, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to us from Mogadishu, Somalia.

Next up, as experts warn of a looming global food shortage, we look at what led to the crisis, and what to do about it. Stay with us.

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