The U.N. secretary-general said Wednesday the Russian invasion of Ukraine must end to stem the growing global food, fuel and finance crises, which could push tens of millions more people across the world into hunger and poverty this year.
"The death and destruction must stop," Antonio Guterres told reporters. "A political solution must be found in line with international law and the United Nations Charter."
But until that happens, he said immediate action is needed to bring stability to global food and energy markets in order to slow rising prices, and resources need to be made available to help the poorest countries and communities withstand the shocks.
The secretary-general has been involved behind the scenes in trying to secure a deal that would allow for the safe and secure export of Ukrainian-produced food through the Black Sea, and the unimpeded access to global markets for Russian food and fertilizers.
"This deal is essential for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa," Guterres said. He would not elaborate on whether his team is close to a deal, because he said he did not want to jeopardize the chances of success when the welfare of millions of people could depend on it.
Global response group
After Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine, the secretary-general quickly established a Global Crisis Response Group to deal with the expected impact of the war's disruption on the Black Sea region, which is one of the world's largest breadbaskets.
The group's coordinator, U.N. trade and development chief Rebeca Grynspan, warned that the current food crisis could escalate into a global food catastrophe by next year.
"Higher energy costs and trade restrictions on the fertilizer supply from the Black Sea region have resulted in fertilizer prices rising even faster than food prices," Grynspan said.
She said if the war drags on and high prices continue for grain and fertilizer into the next planting season, crops such as rice, which feeds billions of people, could be affected next.
"This year's food crisis is about lack of access," U.N. chief Guterres said, referring to the impact of Russia's blockade on Ukraine's grain exports. "Next year's could be about lack of food."
The Global Crisis Response Group says nearly 100 countries and about 1.6 billion people have found themselves severely exposed to at least one dimension of the food, fuel and finance crisis. About three-quarters of them live in countries that are very vulnerable on all three fronts.
Coping mechanisms are strained at both the national level and for families. According to the International Labor Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic had left 60% of workers with a lower real income.
"We are on the brink of the most severe global cost-of-living crisis in a generation," Grynspan said.
Many debt-laden countries are in "debt distress" or at high risk of it. She said the risk of a major debt crisis is greater now than during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She urged the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to release financial support.
"Unless there is a strong effort from international financial institutions to increase countries financial resources and fiscal space, countries will continue to struggle to pay their food and energy import bills, service their debt and increase spending in social protection," she said.
As to the skyrocketing cost of fuel in many countries, she recommended governments use some of their reserves and strategic stockpiles to ease the crunch.
"Let me underline that this is a global crisis, which nobody can escape," she warned.