Ukraine war: Middle East food prices soaring, as donor fatigue kicks in

Amid growing donor fatigue and a brutal war in Ukraine that has diverted the world’s attention, the world must not forget millions of people in need across the Middle East and North Africa, the UN chief told the Security Council on Wednesday.

António Guterres issued the warning during a meeting on the expanding cooperation between UN and the 22-member League of Arab States, with ambassadors adopting a presidential statement praising that increasingly critical partnership.

‘Cascading challenges’

Touching on the various conflicts and humanitarian hotspots across the region, Mr. Guterres described the UN’s work – in partnership with League – in countries ranging from Lebanon to Syria, to Somalia.

“We remain united in our pursuit of multilateral answers to the cascading challenges facing the Arab world and beyond,” he said, spotlighting fresh political turmoil in Libya, the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the dire humanitarian crisis still facing some tens of millions of people in Yemen.

In addition, the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of its neighbour are already being felt, as many of the region’s countries import at least half their wheat from the Russian Federation or Ukraine.

Supply chains have been seriously disrupted, with food, fuel and fertilizer prices skyrocketing.   

“In addition, we are seeing clear evidence of this war draining resources and attention from other trouble-spots in desperate need,” the UN chief said.

Suffering in Yemen, risk in Libya

Warning that the deteriorating conditions are hitting poor people hardest, Mr. Guterres also stressed that desperation and neglect could “plant the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe”.

At a humanitarian funding conference last week, he was deeply disappointed that the UN appeal for assistance received less than a third of the pledged funds so urgently needed. 

“I cannot overstate the severity of the suffering of the people of Yemen,” he said, noting that 20 million there need lifesaving humanitarian aid and protection, appealing to the generosity of the members of partner countries, especially those in the region, in that regard.

Turning to the situation in Libya, he welcomed the League’s engagement in helping to preserve the unity and hard-won stability achieved since the signing of a crucial ceasefire agreement in October 2020, and urged its members to continue prioritizing agreement on a comprehensive political process towards a new peacetime constitution. 

Syrian people ‘feel abandoned’

Across the region, additional situations on the UN agenda range from economic challenges in Lebanon, to the ongoing political transition in Sudan, to the languishing conflict in Syria, which marks its eleventh anniversary this month.

Mr. Guterres told the Council that the UN and the League of Arab States stand united in support of the Syrian people, “who feel abandoned by the world” as more than a decade of war has left the country in ruins.  

The only way to break that deadlock is through a credible political process that forges a sustainable peace and lets the voices of all Syrians be heard, he stressed.

In addition, the UN chief underscored the need to remain committed to finding a path for the peace process to flourish between Israelis and Palestinians, and to end Israel’s longstanding occupation.

Expanded cooperation

Mr. Guterres, who was joined in briefing the Council by League of Arab States Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and a youth civil society representative, praised the expanding cooperation between the UN and the League in seeking peaceful resolutions to all the crises across the region.

In particular, he spotlighted regular meetings between League officials and UN special envoys, as well as the 2019 opening of a UN Liaison Office to the League of Arab States in Cairo, Egypt.

Cooperation is focused, among other things, on the engagement of women and youth, as well as conflict prevention and disarmament.

Current UN population estimates indicate that a majority of the Arab world’s population, 54 per cent, is under the age of 25.