If Ukraine ports don’t open there will be famine, UN official warns

(CNN Business) — David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Program, pleads with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports before a global calamity strikes.

“Millions of people around the world are going to die because these ports are blocked off,” Beasley told CNN during a briefing on Thursday.

Asked what he would say directly to Putin, the UN official said: “If you have any heart for the rest of the world, regardless of how you feel about Ukraine, you should open those ports.”

Crucial agricultural shipments from Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of the world, are stuck in the war-torn nation because the port of Odessa and neighboring ports are blockaded by Russian officials.

Ukraine’s economy faces collapse

Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, warned that the ports need to be up and running within the next 60 days or Ukraine’s agriculture-focused economy will implode.

“If you don’t solve this port problem and open up, Ukraine’s economy will completely collapse,” Beasley told the SABEW conference in New York. “It’s landlocked like Moldova. Ports are critical.”

Ukraine is among the world’s top five exporters of a variety of key agricultural products, including corn, wheat and barley, according to the US Department of Agriculture. It is also the main exporter of sunflower oil and flour. In 2021, agricultural products accounted for 41% of Ukraine’s total exports.

US President Joe Biden addressed the global impact on the food supply caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, noting that an estimated 20 million tons of grain is trapped in silos there.

“Guess what,” Biden said while visiting a farm in Illinois on Wednesday. “If those tons don’t make it to market, a huge number of people in Africa will starve because they are the sole supplier to several African countries.”

Weaponize food and energy?

After Russia promised to sanction 31 foreign energy companies on Wednesday, a senior official in Germany on Thursday accused Russia of using energy as a “weapon”.

Asked if Russia is similarly using food as weapons, the UN’s Beasley noted that would be the case if ports were not quickly reopened. “Two plus two equals four,” he said.

But unlocking the ports will not be easy. Not only are they defended by mines and battleships, Beasley said Ukraine’s military is concerned that reopening them will allow Russia “quick move” and invade Ukraine through its ports.

While emphasizing that he is the “humanitarian type,” the UN official called for an “understanding” within the international community that they will do “whatever it takes to protect” ports from being “invaded.”

“World leaders have to put pressure on Russia in such a way that we can have absolute neutrality in moving supplies in and out of Odessa,” Beasley said.

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