The war in Ukraine is increasing the risk of global hunger by limiting exports of wheat, cooking oil and fertilizers. It has led to higher food prices and increased food insecurity throughout the world. Rising food prices also compound the problem of climate change and crop failure. In South Sudan, more than half of the population – 63 per cent – are likely facing food insecurity and will continue to do so until July 2022. In Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, an estimated one of every three pieces of bread is baked with wheat grown in Ukraine.
In areas struggling with hunger as a result of prolonged periods of climate events and crop failure, rising food prices make a tough situation even worse. Water stress here has caused crop yields to plummet. By the end of the year, an additional 6 million people may experience severe hunger, according to World Food Programme (WFP) estimates. The decreased exports and high food prices stemming from the war in Ukraine have worsened these already stressed conditions. Food insecurity can combine with other factors, like trust in the government and existing tensions, to trigger responses like migration, protests, and in extreme cases, violence.
While food insecurity does not guarantee conflict or regional instability, in several cases it has proved to influence the development of tensions. In 2018 in Sudan, for instance, a reduction in bread subsidies tripled the price of bread overnight. This event, along with concerns about fuel prices and other grievances, sparked large protests which ultimately led to a change in leadership. Residents in Turkana, Kenya dig shallow wells in a dry riverbed to supply drinking water in November 2021.Rolien Sasse, Water Peace and Security. Such responses also highlight the pressures placed on food subsidies in countries which have historically sought to reduce prices for consumers too. This burden can mean they have to forgo other long-term investments like social programs, infrastructure, and water governance improvement plans that are needed to build resilience to water and food-related shocks.
Although the war in Ukraine triggered a cascade of impacts and potential instability for regions throughout the world, the outlook is not entirely bleak. By understanding the impacts of water-related and food-related security risks, especially in the context of a changing climate, and proactively identifying areas that will suffer most from these risks, inclusive actions can be informed to prevent and mitigate conflict. The WPS Global Early Warning Tool forecasts areas of potential conflict over the next 12 months to support proactive action. Water, Peace and Security partnership aims to build awareness of the conditions that trigger instability to help address challenges before conflict erupts and to consider environmental factors when resolving disputes. The world’s interconnected, globally influenced water security challenges demand that we pay attention – and that we act now to mitigate current and future security risks.