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The UN security council discussed how the war in Ukraine may worsen global hunger


U.S. and U.N. officials are warning that the war in Ukraine could push millions more into poverty and hunger around the globe. That's because Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat and fertilizer, as is Russia. Secretary of State Antony Blinken chaired a U.N. Security Council meeting on the subject today, and NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a wake-up call to the Security Council, warning of rising hunger due to drought, distribution problems and conflicts.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: The war in Ukraine is now adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger. Russia's invasion of its neighbor has effectively ended its food exports.

KELEMEN: Ukraine had been a major supplier of wheat to the U.N. World Food Programme. Its director, David Beasley, also had a message to Russia today about the blockade of Ukrainian ports.


DAVID BEASLEY: Truly, failure to open those ports in Odesa region will be a declaration of war on global food security, and it will result in famine and destabilization and mass migration around the world.

KELEMEN: Ghana's Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway says the African continent is no stranger to, as she puts it, harrowing images of starvation caused by conflict. But she noted that usually, conflicts only affect those living in or near war zones.


SHIRLEY AYORKOR BOTCHWAY: Today, however, perhaps the first time since the Second World War, we see the impact of one conflict on food security in every country, every home and on everyone.

KELEMEN: She says the world is in unchartered waters.

The diplomat who represented India at the meeting, V. Muraleedharan, pointed to another problem.


V MURALEEDHARAN: The global south has been adversely impacted both by the conflict itself as well as by the various measures put in place in response.

KELEMEN: In other words, the sanctions meant to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Russia's ambassador Vasily Nebenzya picked up on that theme, accusing the West of trying to break the back of Russia's economy through what he calls a proxy war.


VASILY NEBENZYA: (Through translator) Then in essence, what you're doing is you're taking hostage the whole of the developing world, and you are pushing it towards hunger.

KELEMEN: By the time the Russian ambassador spoke, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was long gone. But he told the Security Council earlier that Russia is pushing a false narrative.


ANTONY BLINKEN: Sanctions aren't blocking Black Sea ports, trapping ships filled with food, Russia is. Sanctions are not emptying Ukrainian grain silos and stealing Ukrainian farm equipment, Russia is.

KELEMEN: And he said there are carve-outs in Western sanctions to make sure that Russia can export its fertilizer and food. The U.N. secretary-general says he's been working intensely with countries in the region to reopen trade that is crucial for the world.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.