We have devoted more than a few column inches on these pages over the past few years to the impact and alleviation of hunger. It is more widespread locally than we think, and it is felt more acutely around the globe than we realize.
People are starving to death. And the war in Ukraine will make matters worse.
First, a few personal observations. I have great admiration for the efforts of local food banks and for ministries that make feeding the hungry their central focus. I see this as kingdom work. Biblically, both the Old and New Testaments tell us to feed the hungry. Matthew 25 and Isaiah 58 include instruction on giving food to those in need.
Of course, people of faith aren’t the only ones committed to this endeavor. Lots of folks are involved because they believe it is the right thing to do.
And it is. Those who toil in this mission field, whatever their motivation, are to be commended. Likewise, little would take happen without the generosity of those who support feeding the hungry with their hard-earned dollars. Much has been accomplished and that should be recognized and celebrated.
However, the collective commitment will face serious obstacles in the near term. By now, most everyone has been reminded that Ukraine is the “breadbasket of Europe” and that its wheat and other agricultural products feed people near and far. For the past month, though, the country has been plunged into war following Russia’s unprovoked attack.
One of the many negative effects of the war is its impact on food security. The World Food Program said last week that wheat shipments from both countries have come to a virtual halt. Between them, Ukraine and Russia account for almost one-third of the world’s wheat trade. That’s not all, though.
Together, the two also produce 17% of the world’s corn, 32% of its barley and 75% of its sunflower seed oil. Barley is important because of its role as a source of animal feed.
The conflict is expected to lead to what experts describe as “collateral hunger” in Middle Eastern countries that count on Ukraine’s wheat. For example, Lebanon gets more than 60% of its wheat from Ukraine.
Just as important, Russia and Belarus are two significant producers of fertilizers, according to the New York Times, and recently prices for some fertilizers have soared as much as 40%. Additionally, China’s sizable wheat crop has been impacted by flooding, meaning it will produce less and procure more, reducing the available amount for other countries.
“Ukraine has only compounded a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe,” David M. Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, told the Times. “There is no precedent even close to this since World War II.”
The World Food Program is the hunger-focused arm of the United Nations. It feeds some 125 million people per day.
Yes, you read that number correctly.
It’s another reminder we all share this tiny planet and while Ukraine may be a long way from West Texas, what takes place there will reverberate here through a continued upward surge of higher prices at a time when a lot of us already feel like we need to visit with a loan officer before we take our family to dinner or fill up our gas tank.
Without veering too far off track, the war is the latest in a series of challenges to produce virtual across-the-board sticker shock. The pandemic snarled the supply chain, which has still not been smoothed out. Throw in spiraling energy costs and more than a few disruptive weather events and you have a not-so-perfect storm.
In Ukraine, they can’t plant and harvest. Energy prices are impacting fertilizer production, which will take a toll on producers, which will lead to lower crop yields. Less product and higher prices for everyone.
Hunger, meanwhile, continues unabated. The United Nations just said the war’s impact on the global food market could lead to as many as 13 million people going hungry.
It was already well known that hunger surged during the COVID-19 pandemic with the official increase close to 20% (between 720 million and 811 million, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World). That is a staggering number and one that should arrest our attention. After all, it was only six years ago that the global community committed to a goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
We have a long way to go and not so long to get there, it seems.
Those who will suffer the most from this ongoing crisis unfortunately will be those among the world’s most vulnerable. Countries such as Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Ethiopia were already dealing with critical food issues that are expected to get worse, according to the Times. In Afghanistan, experts say half of the country’s population don’t have enough to eat. That’s 23 million people.
I mentioned a few Bible passages earlier. Here is what Isaiah 58:10 says: “Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.”
In this great nation, most have never known real hunger. In this land of plenty, we’ve probably never had to worry about where our next meal might come from, if it were to come at all. We might complain about the cost of our favorite sandwich increasing, but odds are we can still afford it. Without a doubt, we have much for which to be grateful.
I like that idea of our light shining out from the darkness. I think that’s what we’re called to do, in whatever way we can. More people are hungry than ever before, and it looks like it will get worse before it gets better.
Between now and then, let’s do what we can when we can. The world can use all the light it can get these days.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Avalanche-Journal.