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Ukraine war drives international food prices to ‘new all-time high’

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Global food prices have reached “a new all-time high,” the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on Friday, “hitting the poorest the hardest.”

“It is now more than two years that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively impact our lives, our health and our economies,” said FAO chief QU Dongyu.

Explaining that the neediest “face greater exposure to the pandemic and are the most affected by rising food and fuel prices,” he pointed out that prices for staple foodstuffs such as wheat and vegetable oils have soared, “imposing extraordinary costs on global consumers, particularly the poorest”.

Repercussions of war

Conflict has driven up international prices for wheat, maize and vegetable oils, as war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through the markets trading in these staples.

The FAO Food Price Index averaged 159.3 points in March, up 12.6 per cent from February when it had already reached its highest level since its inception in 1990.

The Index tracks monthly changes in the prices of a basket of commonly traded food commodities. Last month’s prices were 33.6 per cent higher overall, than March last year.

Driven by soaring wheat and coarse grain prices – largely as a result of the war in Ukraine – the FAO Cereal Price Index was 17.1 per cent higher in March than it was just a month earlier.

Over the past three years, Russia and Ukraine combined, accounted for around 30 per cent and 20 per cent of global wheat and maize exports, respectively.

Harvest falls short

FAO’s newly released Cereal Supply and Demand Brief estimates that at least 20 per cent of Ukraine’s winter crops that were planted, may not be harvested.

But, it also points to a worldwide cereal production of 2,799 million tonnes, up slightly from 2020, with rice production reaching an all-time high of 520.3 million tonnes.

And global cereal use in 2021-22 is projected to reach 2,789 million tonnes, including a record level for rice, with increases also expected for maize and wheat.

Global cereal stocks are forecast to rise by 2.4 per cent by the end of this year, from their opening levels, largely due to higher wheat and maize stocks in Russia and Ukraine, on account of lower expected exports.

FAO lowered its forecast for world trade in cereals in the current marketing year to 469 million tonnes, marking a contraction from the 2020-21 level, largely due to the war in Ukraine and based on currently available information.

Expectations point to the European Union and India increasing wheat exports, while Argentina, India and the United States ship are likely to ship more maize – partially compensating for the loss of exports from the Black Sea region.

Oil and sugar

The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index rose 23.2 per cent, driven by higher quotations for sunflower seed oil, of which Ukraine is the world’s leading exporter.

Palm, soy and rapeseed oil prices also rose markedly as a result of the higher sunflower seed oil prices and the rising crude oil prices – with soy oil prices further underpinned by concerns over reduced South American exports.

FAO’s Sugar Price Index rose 6.7 per cent from February, reversing recent declines to reach a level more than 20 per cent higher than in March 2021.

Higher crude oil prices were a driving factor, along with currency appreciation of the Brazilian Real, while favorable production prospects in India prevented larger monthly price increases.

Meat and dairy

Meanwhile, surging pig meat prices related to a shortfall in animals for slaughter in Western Europe, drove the FAO Meat Price Index up by 4.8 per cent in March to reach an all-time high.

International poultry prices also firmed in step with reduced supplies from leading exporting countries following avian flu outbreaks.

Amid a surge in import demand for near and long-term deliveries, especially from Asian markets, quotations for butter and milk powders rose steeply, driving the FAO Dairy Price Index up 2.6 per cent, making it 23.6 per cent higher than in March 2021.

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Dozens missing after migrant boat sinks in Aegean Sea

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Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file) © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Dozens of people are said to be missing after a boat of migrants and refugees sank in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday off the Greek island of Karpathos, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

“Very sad news from the Aegean: Dozens of people are missing after a boat sank off the island of Rhodes this morning (Wednesday),” UNHCR’s office in Greece said in a tweet.

News media reported that the vessel sank at dawn after setting sail from southern Türkiye yesterday, heading for Italy.

29 rescued

A major search and rescue operation is underway,” said UNHCR.

According to news reports, the Greek Coast Guard said that an air and sea rescue operation saved 29 people, all men, from the waters between Rhodes and Crete.

The media also cited the Greek authorities in reporting that the rescued are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The wrecked boat had sailed from Antalya, located on the southern coast of neighbouring Türkiye.

Still searching

News media quoted a Greek Coast Guard press official who said that those rescued affirmed that the voyage began with 80 people on board – so up to 50 are still missing.  

UNHCR confirmed the number of missing.

Deadly route

Since the beginning of the year, UNHCR has said that more than 60 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean.

Aegean Sea crossings between the Greek islands and Turkish coasts are often perilous – taking the lives of many migrants and refugees who travel on makeshift boats with hopes of arriving in Europe.

Since January, 64 people have died in the eastern Mediterranean, and 111 in 2021, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The last shipwreck in the Aegean Sea, which took place on 19 June, took the lives of eight people off the island of Mykonos, according to the IOM.

Every more deadly crossing

While the number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe is lower than in 2015, the journeys have become increasingly more deadly.

Throughout last year, the UN counted 3,231 migrants and refugees dead or missing in the Mediterranean Sea, and 945 people so far this year.

Successful voyages

At the same time, 70,325 migrants did manage to reach Europe, of which 65,548 individual crossings were reported in the Mediterranean, according to UNHCR.

Since the beginning of the year, Italy received the largest number of arrivals – 43,740, followed by Spain – nearly 17,000, Greece – 7,261, and Cyprus – 2,268.

Last year there were 123,300 arrivals, and in 2020, 95,800. Previously, 123,700 crossed the Mediterranean in 2019, and 141,500 in 2018.

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Nuclear-free Mongolia a ‘symbol of peace in a troubled world’

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Secretary-General António Guterres greets Mongolian peacekeepers which has the largest per capita contribution to peacekeeping operations. UN Mongolia/Rentsendorj Bazarsuk

In a visit to Mongolia on Tuesday, Secretary-General António Guterres underscored the UN’s full solidarity for the country, which he described as “a symbol of peace in a troubled world”. 

Mr. Guterres was speaking to journalists at a press conference in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, following a meeting with the Foreign Minister, Battsetseg Batmunkh. 

He stated that in a world with dramatic geopolitical divides, and where conflicts proliferate everywhere, Mongolia – as an area free of nuclear weapons – is an example for other countries to follow.   

No more nuclear weapons 

“We live in a world where for the first time in decades people are thinking that a nuclear war might be possible again,” said Mr. Guterres. 

“There is only one way to be absolutely sure that a nuclear war is impossible, and that way is if there are no nuclear weapons.”

Mongolia is the latest stop on the Secretary-General’s visit to Asia, which began in Japan on Friday. 

Tribute to peacekeepers 

Over the past six decades, the country has become an increasingly important contributor to the UN’s work, he said. 

Mr. Guterres expressed gratitude to Mongolian peacekeepers serving at UN peace operations, “often in the most challenging settings and with courage in the way they protect civilians where unfortunately, there’s sometimes no peace to keep”.  

The Secretary-General had met with Mongolia’s President, Khurelsukh Ukhnaa, and other senior officials, earlier on Tuesday. 

They discussed the geopolitical situation in the region, the challenges Mongolia faces as a landlocked country, and national efforts to tackle climate change.  

‘Make peace with nature’ 

Relatedly, Mr. Guterres also joined young people and peacekeepers at a tree-planting ceremony, part of Mongolia’s One Billion Trees campaign to address climate change and desertification. 

“My generation was very stupid. My generation declared war on nature – with climate change with the loss of biodiversity, with pollution,” he said

Mr. Guterres stressed how “nature is striking back” with storms, desertification, floods and disasters, which are making life very difficult for many people around the world and causing many victims.   

“Your generation has an important task to make peace with nature,” he said.  “And what we are going to do today, must be a gesture of that new attitude to make peace with nature.” 

The Secretary-General also visited a nomadic family in Mongolia and learned about their way of life. 

He also met a group of beneficiaries from UN projects, including women entrepreneurs and youth activists.   

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Substantial progress made in Vienna; sides focusing on Safeguards

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image source: Tehran Times

The third day of talks between experts from Iran and the EU centered around technical and legal matters regarding the Safeguards agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Delegates from Iran, the EU and the U.S. resumed talks in Vienna on Thursday after nearly a five-month hiatus. This round of talks started on Thursday without the presence of nuclear negotiators from the European trio – Germany, France and Britain. Only experts from these three countries have attended the negotiations.  

Iran believes that any agreement on restoring the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is dependent on putting an end to unsubstantiated allegations about Iran’s past nuclear program. Iran insists that these questions had already been resolved within the PMD, when the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015.

According to reports, substantial progress has been made in bringing the views of Iran and the U.S. closer together during the last three days. However, in Tehran’s view nothing is resolved until everything is settled.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), also confirmed on Saturday that talks are mainly focused on Safeguards issues.

“We are now negotiating,” Kamalvandi said of the talks between Iran’s nuclear experts with Mora.

On the atmosphere of the talks, he said, “It is not bad.”

Mohammad Marandi, a senior expert on nuclear issues, also told Al-Mayadeen TV that “progresses” have been made in Vienna, but one should be “cautious”. He argued the success of talks is 50 percent. Marandi said the differences remain only between Iran and the United States.

He added, “We have heard from certain European sources that the Americans have revived their views on certain issues.”

The Russian chief negotiator in the Vienna talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, also tweeted that there is “no unresolvable issue” on the table in the Vienna talks.

Source: Tehran Times

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