Food Crisis Triggered by Russia–Ukraine Conflict Could See Mass Migration From Central America to US: UN Official

Food Crisis Triggered by Russia–Ukraine Conflict Could See Mass Migration From Central America to US: UN Official
People shop at a grocery store in Monterey Park, California, on April 12, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts

The ongoing Russia–Ukraine conflict and subsequent global food crisis could destabilize nations and create mass migration from Central America to the United States, David Beasley, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, said on April 17.

Beasley told CBS News' "Face the Nation" that there is "no question" that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using starvation as a weapon in a number of ways, stating that food is being "used as a weapon of war."

He noted that Ukraine produces enough food to feed 400 million people across the globe. That figure does not include the population of Ukraine itself.

However, Beasley said supply lines from Ukraine to the rest of the world have been shut down, while farmers are no longer able to work in fields and thus plant, fertilize, and harvest crops due to the current conflict.

The U.N. official said ports need to be opened up and demined "quickly," noting that "if we don't get those ports open again ... that's the basis in which 400 million people get their food from Ukraine."

Beasley stressed that less developed and war-torn countries such as Syria and Yemen are likely to be further impacted by the current Russia–Ukraine conflict and are thus more exposed to potential famine.

He noted that the U.N. has already heard of large numbers of people in central America considering migrating to the United States as inflation levels in their countries—including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—continue to soar.

"And let me tell you what's going to happen if we don't get the food we need to reach people in need, whether it's in the Middle East, northern Africa, or Central America: you're going to have famine and you will have destabilization of nations and then you will have mass migration, and this will cost a thousand times more than if we can get the food and reach the people before they either die or create political unrest or migrate," Beasley said.

Inside Ukraine, Beasley said the U.N. has seen "food depots that have been blown away" and "places where there’s nothing in these warehouses but food, and that’s not even in Mariupol," he said.

"And so there is no question food is being used as a weapon of war in many different ways here," Beasley continued. "I don't know the reason or the rationale for it, I know it's heartbreaking because why in the world would you deny people access to food? Innocent victims of war?"

The White House said last month that it anticipates a global food shortage due to the full-scale invasion launched by Russian forces in Ukraine which could push energy, fertilizer, wheat, and corn prices higher, but officials noted that the United States is not likely to be impacted by a food shortage.
Meanwhile, the U.N. has warned that Ukraine's food supply chain is "falling apart" due to Russia's invasion. Both countries are key exporters of grain and supply nearly 30 percent of wheat and nearly 20 percent of corn in the global market.

Asked by Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan if he was confident that the World Food Programme would be able to keep food supply lines open, Beasley replied, "No, I'm not."

"I’m not confident at all. There are places that we can't reach, like in Mariupol, and other places where Russian forces have besieged the city and are not allowing us the access we need."