‘Era-defining’ war in Ukraine impacts WFP operations in South Sudan

‘Era-defining’ war in Ukraine impacts WFP operations in South Sudan

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 2, 2022, has had far-reaching ramifications in countries thousands of miles from the battleground.

In South Sudan, the World Food Program (WFP) reports that nearly eight million people are facing severe levels of food insecurity at a time when the cost of staple items and fuel has shot up due to supply chain disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine.

Yesterday, Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, dramatically escalating its response to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

Matthew Hollingworth, WFP Country Director in South Sudan, spoke to UN News about how the fallout from what he called the “era-defining” war in Ukraine is being felt thousands of kilometres away.

“Russia and Ukraine represent about 30 per cent of the world’s cereal exports. That means so many countries that rely on importing cereals from Russia and Ukraine. If that flow of a key food commodity is effected in any way, it has a major impact on what is typically a staple of diets across the world. Now in South Sudan, that is not the mainstay of the diet. It’s sorghum or maize, as the key cereal. But we are surrounded by countries that rely on wheat. And if wheat prices go up, and if wheat availability goes down, the price of sorghum and maize will go up as a ripple effect of what’s happening in Ukraine,” says Hollingworth.

There is already an increasing price of sorghum and maize in the country; a significant increase in vegetable oil, already 15 per cent since the beginning of the year.

“The cost of fuel is going up. We’re already seeing at least a $300,000 per month increase in the cost of aviation fuel. On the fuel that we use to move trucks around the country—and the vast majority of what is moved for the humanitarian community is by truck—those prices have gone up by a million dollars a month. If fuel prices continue as they are today, that will be $8 million more required just to move trucks around the country this year,” he says.

The problem now is whether or not WFP will be in a position to sustain the astronomical prices.

“Right now, we know we can’t. Even though those numbers sound big, they are dwarfed by what we need to support those millions in South Sudan.  We are currently $600 million short for our programmes for the next six months. Ukraine is an era-defining crisis. It is, suffice it to say, going to have an impact everywhere. And one of those impacts is that humanitarian donors, member states, and humanitarian institutions will not have the money to meet the enormity of the needs that the world sees, “says Hollingworth.

He is calling on donors to recognise that, first of all, this is still the youngest nation in the world, and it’s in a pretty fragile state.

“We are getting towards the end of what has been a very difficult and unstable transitional period.” We have a Transitional Government of National Unity brought together by the various parties who have been fighting one another off-and-on for the last seven years. That political agreement could break, and we’re coming to the culmination of it. And what’s happening as we come to the end is this enormous instability because we’re seeing poverty levels and humanitarian needs at levels never seen before. So, on the one hand, we are saying to donors, “Let’s be cognizant of the fact that this country that was only really born 10 years ago is in a very precarious situation’,” says Hollingworth.