World Bank President David Malpass told the BBC at the International Monetary Fund–World Bank spring meetings in Washington that record food prices could see hundreds of millions of people forced into poverty if the conflict in Ukraine continues.
“It’s a human catastrophe, meaning nutrition goes down. But then it also becomes a political challenge for governments who can’t do anything about it, they didn’t cause it and they see the prices going up,” Malpass said.
The World Bank calculates there could be a “huge” 37 percent jump in food prices, which will hit the poor the hardest and see them “eat less and have less money for anything else such as schooling,” he said. “And so that means that it’s really an unfair kind of crisis. It hits the poorest the hardest. That was true also of COVID.”
Regarding the “broad and deep” price increases, the World Bank chief said it’s “affecting food of all different kinds of oils, grains, and then it gets into other crops, corn crops because they go up when wheat goes up.”
Both Russia and Ukraine are key exporters of grain and supply nearly 30 percent of wheat and nearly 20 percent of corn to the global market.
Food prices were up nearly 13 percent in March, the highest on record since 1990, according to the United Nations’ FAO Food Price Index.
Meanwhile, the U.N. has previously warned that Ukraine’s food supply chain is “falling apart” because of the Russian invasion.
While Malpass noted that there is enough food globally to feed everyone, and stockpiles throughout the world continue to remain large by historical standards, he said there would need to be a sharing or sales process to ensure that the food goes where it is needed.
He also said there needs to be more of a focus on boosting supplies of fertilizers and food across the world and assisting the poorest of people, while discouraging countries from subsidizing production or capping prices.
Malpass also warned of a knock-on “crisis within a crisis” that could occur due to developing countries being unable to service their large debts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic as they struggle with rising food and energy costs.
The International Monetary Fund said on April 19 that 60 percent of low-income countries are at or near “debt distress” adding that it’s open to providing financial assistance to these countries via traditional programs or emergency financing.
“This is a very real prospect. It’s happening for some countries, we don’t know how far it’ll go. As many as 60 percent of the poorest countries right now are either in debt distress or at high risk of being in debt distress,” Malpass said.
“We have to be worried about a debt crisis, the best thing to do is to start early to act early on finding ways to reduce the debt burden for countries that … have unsustainable debt. The longer you put it off, the worse it is.”
Malpass’s comments come after the White House said last month that it anticipates a global food shortage due to events in Ukraine, which could lead to higher energy, fertilizer, wheat, and corn prices at a time when inflation levels in the United States have reached their highest in 40 years.
However, Biden administration officials have said the United States is unlikely to be affected by a food shortage.
Meanwhile, David Beasley, the executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, has warned that a global food crisis could drive an influx of illegal immigrants to try to enter the United States.
Beasley told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on April 17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using starvation as a “weapon” in various ways, and that the U.N. has heard of large numbers of people in Central America considering migrating to the United States as inflation levels in their countries continue to soar, further exacerbated by the situation in Ukraine.