US Rep. Meeks says the Russian war on Ukraine is causing food shortages in Africa

Meeks tells theGrio what he learned during a recent delegation trip to Ukraine that he and members of Congress reported back to President Biden.

US Chairman, Gregory Meeks speaks to media after a trip to Ukraine at the Bristol Hotel on May 01, 2022 in Rzeszow, Poland. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, met with a United Nations official on Wednesday to address a growing issue of grain shortage in Ukraine stemming from the Russian invasion that is now impacting the African continent. 

The shortage has created a negative domino effect on the famine crisis in Africa, Congressman Meeks told theGrio of what he learned during his meeting with UN World Food Programme executive director David Beasley. The lawmaker said that all 54 African nations have been affected by this grain shortage, particularly Ethiopia and Congo.

Meeks said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy specifically addressed the issue with him and other members of the United States delegation that recently traveled to Ukraine and its neighbor, Poland. 

Rep. Meeks and the U.S. delegation, comprised of congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reported back to President Joe Biden what was learned during their visit to Kyiv.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks outside the White House after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on May 10, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“The president of the United States is very concerned and very focused on it because we know the unpredictability of Vladimir Putin and we know that timing is of the essence,” Meeks told theGrio. “That’s why we’re doing everything that we can in a timely fashion to try to penetrate and open up that port so that we can get food out.”

TheGrio asked outgoing White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during Thursday’s press briefing where President Biden stands on the issue of concern regarding food shortages in Africa and across the globe.

Psaki said it was “an important issue” and emphasized that the president while in Chicago, “raised the issue of doing everything we can to increase supply here in the United States.” She also noted that such shortages are not expected to happen on American soil.

“We want to be providers of American grains to the rest of the world as we’re seeing shortages in part because of the war in Ukraine,” Psaki told theGrio. She added that as “the world’s largest provider of assistance in aid to global food programs,” the U.S. has provided a “large amount of assistance” in anticipation of “what we see as a potential shortage of food.”

The assistance in supplying grains and wheat provided by the United States – which she said had been in the works for months – is expected to continue, Psaki noted. 

Meeks told theGrio, that in the meantime, it’s imperative that the United States find other “mechanisms” to address the loss of grains across the globe due to the Ukraine-Russia war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi during a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation on April 30, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/Handout via Getty Images)

The urgency that the war has created is why Congress passed a $40 billion package providing economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. Meeks said a significant amount of the humanitarian aid was secured by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is the chair of the ​​House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

Meeks noted that Congress ultimately added more federal funding than what President Biden had requested for the Ukraine package. The congressman expressed a sense of priority for the United States to respond to this moment. 

“How do we work collectively to prevent the kind of starvation that could happen if we don’t do something sooner rather than later?” he said. 

United Nations agencies have warned that, in addition to the negative impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tens of millions of people have “plunged into extreme poverty by the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate shocks and economic turmoil,” according to Reuters

As reported by CNBC Africa, a report by Global Network Against Food Crises found that last year Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 193 million people around the world considered “acutely food insecure.”

One report found that, in 2020, one in five people — or 21 percent of the population — faced hunger in Africa. In total, 282 million Africans were undernourished. The year earlier, that number was approximately 236 million.

A Liberian man carries a bag of grain on her head on August 15, 2003 in Monrovia, Liberia. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

Meeks said that the grain shortage from Ukraine is also beginning to impact Central and South American countries, noting “we are all interconnected” and that it’s going to take a “global affair” to alleviate shortages. Additionally, he said, there’s now a rising cost of bread caused by the Russian invasion. 

These worrying trends are the result of multiple drivers feeding into one another, ranging from geo-conflict, and environmental and climate crises, to economic and health issues exacerbated by already existing poverty and inequality.

Congressman Meeks said it’s important to get out the word and “act swiftly” about the global food crisis, as it is a humanitarian issue — one that Speaker Pelosi and other leaders in Congress are focused on and will do whatever it takes to resolve.

He told theGrio, “I want people to know that it’s all still interconnected, not only foreign policy, but to domestic policy, the domestic issues that we face right here in the United States.”

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