Biden weighs adding global food aid to Ukraine funding request

‘The world food programme is under siege so we need to do something.’
Image: Bloomberg

The Biden administration is weighing swift action to ramp up global food assistance amid rising concern that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is stoking a hunger crisis in many poorer nations, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The White House is considering attaching a global food aid request to the military aid package for Ukraine that President Joe Biden is preparing to send to Congress as a means to move the relief quickly.

White House spokespeople declined immediate comment.

The war has disrupted exports of wheat, corn, sunflower oil and other foods from Russia and Ukraine, and growing alarm about how to deal with rapidly rising food costs and insecurity is driving bipartisan support in Congress for providing as much as $5 billion in aid.

“I don’t know if it’d be that much, but we want money for food aid, yes,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Monday when asked about the potential aid package. “The world food programme is under siege so we need to do something.”

Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said the food assistance was being discussed by Democratic leaders in the chamber and that he urged it be attached to a package for aid to Ukraine.

“We are in a global food crisis like we’ve never before seen,” Booker said. “I’m really hoping that if we do a Ukraine bill, these issues are very tied.”

Senator Chris Coons led a congressional delegation to Rome over the weekend for briefings on the emerging global impact on hunger in the Middle East, Africa and lower-income nations around the world.

The region enmeshed in the conflict is one of the world’s breadbaskets, accounting for more than a tenth of all calories traded in international markets. On top of that, the conflict is impairing exports of fertiliser from two key producers, Russia and Belarus, driving up costs and disrupting production elsewhere.

The emerging crisis is reminiscent of the last major spike in global food prices that became a catalyst for the 2010-2012 Arab Spring, which toppled long-ruling governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Grain supplies from Ukraine and Russia are especially important to Middle Eastern nations and Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat.

With many lower-income nations already reeling from the pandemic’s economic damage, the food price surge is being felt around the world. Oxfam and other aid agencies said earlier this month that an additional 11 million people in West Africa could be confronting hunger in the next three months. Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah last week warned of a “massive, immediate food crisis” around the world.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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