World Food Program warns of a looming global catastrophe

Much of East Africa and other areas of the world are now facing food shortages in part due to climate change and Russia’s war with Ukraine. This comes as the World Food Program is experiencing funding shortages amid the prospect that many people will soon go hungry without action from the global community. David Beasley, executive director of the WFP, joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Now we turn to Nick Schifrin, who picks up our reporting on the global food crisis.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And for more on the challenges not only in South Sudan, but all of East Africa and a larger look at some of the issues coming out of the Ukraine war, I'm joined by the executive director of the World Food Program, David Beasley.

    David Beasley, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you very much.

    We just heard in that story that WFP has less than half of the money it needs in South Sudan. And Fred reported that some people will actually go hungry at the end of the month if that money doesn't come in. How acute is that problem?

  • David Beasley, Executive Director, World Food Program:

    It's a very serious problem. And it's a very serious problem all over the world, Nick.

    And we're facing an unprecedented food crisis globally. South Sudan is no exception to the rule right now. The Republicans and Democrats have been fighting over everything, agreeing on nothing. But they did just come together, a miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue. They came up with an additional $5 billion for food security around the world.

    That's going to have a major, major impact. And we got to get more nations to step up, because, as you're saying, South Sudan, we don't have enough money. The U.S. can't do it alone. Other countries need to step up, particularly the Gulf states. With all prices being so high, their net profits increase at billions of dollars per week.

    There's no reason, no reason at all, especially the Gulf states, to step up in countries in their region, like Somalia and Ethiopia and Syria and Yemen, places like that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so let's look at the larger question of East Africa.

    The U.N. says as many as 37 million people across seven countries, from Djibouti to Uganda, are expected to face acute food security this year. You were recently in Somalia, where we have seen a 260 percent increase in children under 5 with severe malnutrition.

    When you look at the regional challenge, how overwhelming does it seem?

  • David Beasley:

    It's heartbreaking. You can't believe this has happened in 2022.

    And here we are with — you just came out of — you have got conflict. You have climate shocks. You have COVID economic ripple effect. Then you got oil prices, lack of fertilizer, and the Ukrainian crisis just on top of everything. It's like a tsunami on top of a tsunami.

    I was just in — literally the last few days, in the drought-stricken areas of Somalia, as well as Northern Kenya, and as well as Ethiopia. And many of these places make, their livelihood is 100 percent livestock. And their livestock are dying by the millions as we speak.

    And I literally was talking to mothers and fathers who were just heartbroken. They have no money. They have no hope. I said, what happens if the World Food Program is not there, if we don't come in with relief?

    And mother after mother said, we will start dying like the animals.

    And, Nick, if we don't come in, it's not just that people will die. You will have destabilization, radicalization, and you will have mass migration. And these alone will cause 1,000 times more than coming in and helping people stabilize their lives and giving them some hope at a time like this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We're talking about failure to get some funding, especially in East Africa.

    But the International Rescue Committee recently pointed out the appeal for Ukraine was 85 percent funded. Why do you think there's such a disparity?

  • David Beasley:

    Yes, I don't know.

    I know I have been fighting hard to get dollars. A starving child, I don't care where that child is. We have a moral obligation to reach that child, whether it's in Ukraine, or in Somalia, or Ethiopia, or Guatemala, or Afghanistan, because children are children. If we don't reach them, they — if they don't die, they will be radicalized, or they will have limitations because of health restrictions, the wasting, the stunting that we talk about, and the entire country pays a price and the world pays a price for that.

    So we have an obligation to help children. Here's what really, really upset you. When you think about the simple fact there's $430 trillion worth of wealth on the planet today, and that any child in the world dies from hunger, that's a disgrace on humanity.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's zoom into Ukraine.

    We have seen the brave commander, the first WFP-funded ship leave Ukraine for the Northern Horn of Africa carrying 23,000 tons of wheat. Why is it the only ship so far that has left Ukraine for some of the countries that need it most?

  • David Beasley:

    Well, there's a lot of issues involved. And we're making great progress.

    I have been saying it's critical to open the port to calm the markets around the world. So it's starting to happen. We have got our first ship of 23,000 metric tons that's moving forward. That will go to the Djibouti port to help feed the people in Ethiopia. That 23,000 will serve about 1.53 million people over a 30-day period.

    We have got another ship that will be 7,000 metric tons, hopefully be moving out next week, that will reach over two million people. That will go to Yemen. And I can tell you, all that food is needed right now immediately and urgently to save lives.

    Every day matters right now, Nick. Every single day makes a difference in the life of a child who's not getting the food that they need.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Many of the ships that have left Ukraine so far were already full of food that had been ordered before the invasion and were actually sitting there before the Russian invasion.

    It sounds like what you're saying is that we're about to see more ships leaving for the places that need it most.

  • David Beasley:

    This is a global crisis. Ukraine plays a very important part.

    This is — Russia and Ukraine alone grow 30 percent of the world's supply of wheat. And when you consider that the droughts that we're facing around the world, you can only imagine the problems that we're going to have at harvesting for the coming year. And then you take the fertilizer crisis on top of that, you have got a — you have got a perfect storm already in 2022; 2023 could even be worse if we don't get ahead of this, Nick.

    We have got to get ahead of this in a comprehensive way. And Ukraine is a very important part of it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As the U.S. has been very clear, it has not sanctioned any kind of fertilizer or food export from Russia, but the U.S. has sanctioned transportation companies, banks, insurance companies that would do the business of exporting from Russia.

    So has this deal allowed an increase in the exports from Russia, fertilizer and food?

  • David Beasley:

    Yes.

    And, Nick, we all been working on that. There are a lot of nuances in there because we have been talking to the banks, insurers. And what happened in the Ukraine opening up the port has really alleviated a lot of that pressure. And I think there are breakthroughs taking place as we speak.

    It's not an easy process. As you can imagine, banks and transporters, shippers, as well as the insurers, are very cautious about it, regardless of what is said. And I think the United States State Department has reached out and really tried to alleviate some of those concerns, so that we can address this extraordinary perfect storm globally.

    And it's critical that all fertilizers start moving around the world.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, always a pleasure. Thanks very much.

  • David Beasley:

    Thanks, Nick.

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