Ukraine focus diverts food aid from other crisis-stricken regions

WHO among bodies reminding of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan and Tigray

From the outset of Russia's war on Ukraine and the outflow of Ukrainian refugees, humanitarian aid agencies have warned that global food supplies have come under stress and financial resources have been diverted to Ukraine from other major crises.

The abrupt absence of Russian and Ukrainian grain exports, which account for 30 per cent of world supplies, has created shortages and compelled governments and aid agencies to compete with wealthy countries for supplies, driving up prices in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African countries.

The situation is acute in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan, where poverty is rampant and bread the daily staple food.

Norwegian Refugee Council head Jan Egeland told the BBC this is a "catastrophe" for the poorest parts of the world. "They will starve."

Funds for non-Ukraine crises were dwindling before the war. UN appeals raised only half the sum needed for heavily sanctioned Afghanistan and less than a third for Yemen, regarded as the world’s worse humanitarian crisis.

Hunger and famine

Food aid cuts have swelled the numbers of hungry people and threaten famine on a wide scale. World Food Programme chief David Beasley warned in a March 21st World Economic Forum interview that if these crises are neglected, wealthy countries "could have millions upon millions of refugees heading [their] way." His words have not been heeded.

With the crises in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria worsening during the Ukraine war, Egeland said aid agencies feel “overstretched, underfunded, overwhelmed like never before”.

Governments and their citizens have been moved to provide funds to Ukraine by constant global media coverage of the war and the plight of the 4.7 million Ukrainian refugees outside their country and 7.1 million internally displaced, whose gripping stories are broadcast frequently.

This partly explains the focus on that country and its travails rather than on the other 26 million refugees and 80 million displaced elsewhere, particularly those whose long-standing privations are deepened by donor fatigue.

Racism and aid

Several analysts have expressed concern over "double standards" and "racism" when considering the generosity shown Ukraine in comparison with other crises. World Health Organisation director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked whether "the world really gives equal attention to black and white lives" that attract a "fraction" of the attention received by Ukraine.

For Tedros, the issue of racism is personal as he is from the devastated Tigray region, which was at war with Ethiopia for 17 months. He pointed out that since a truce was reached last month, only 20 lorries have delivered food and medical supplies to Tigray. "As we speak, people are dying of starvation."

There was “nowhere on Earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat” than in Tigray, he said.

While he recognised the Ukraine war was important, he stated, “I need to be blunt and honest that the world is not treating the human race the same way. Some are more equal than others.” He said he “hopes the world comes back to its senses and treats all human life equally”.