Nairobi, Kenya, 16 March 2023 — As the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a UN-brokered agreement to ensure lifesaving grain reaches dozens of countries from Ukraine and the region, nears expiry 18 March, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls for renewal of the UN-brokered deal for 12 months to help stave off hunger in the most food insecure countries. Somalia is on the verge of famine, and shipments of grain to countries most in need, including Somalia, hinge on the critical renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. To further avert mass global hunger, the UN should also reenergise the High-Level Task Force on Famine and increase the ability of children in the region to access lifesaving malnutrition treatment.
Before the July 2022 deal was struck, Ukrainian grain (around 20 million tons) was stuck in silos and unavailable for export, contributing to a jump in food prices globally that affected food insecure countries the most. Renewing the Black Sea Grain deal and prioritising export destinations is crucial to averting the imminent risk of starvation in East Africa.
Food price inflation is currently double in the countries most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe this year (nearly 40%) compared to an 18% food inflation rate in the rest of the world. The deal is important to ensure that the global food prices do not further increase the vulnerability of the populations already affected by drought.
Millions of people are facing extreme hunger in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Somalia, which has been struggling for years with conflict and violence is on the verge of another famine, after the 2010-2012 crisis which claimed more than a quarter of a million lives, half of them children. The country is the second most vulnerable country to the effects of the climate crisis, according to the ND-Gain Index, and this vulnerability has become clear in the wake of its worst drought in recorded history. Somalia receives over 90% of its grain from Ukraine.
In Kenya, about 5.4 million people are projected to face high levels of acute food insecurity between March and June this year, of which 1.2 million people will likely be in the emergency phase. This latest projection highlights a 43% increase of people facing high levels of food insecurity compared to the same period last year.
The impact on Ethiopia due to the drought continues to worsen. Following five consecutive failed rainy seasons, currently 11 million people are food insecure and in need of humanitarian support. Where rains have fallen they have largely been erratic and scarce, in turn significantly diminishing the crops produced by farmers and severely affecting the pastoralists.
The IRC is calling on the UN to:
- Immediately renew the Black Sea Grain Deal for 12 months to establish stability and predictability in the global food market which will help reduce pressure on food prices and limit speculation on grain futures, while ensuring grain exported through the mechanism reaches the countries most in need.
- Reenergise its High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine, prioritising countries at highest risk: Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Sudan. The task force's membership should be expanded to include international financial institutions, local and international NGOs, leading and emerging donors, and engage closely with affected states and populations each year. The task force should focus on unlocking the political will to respond to a famine risk, mobilising investments at scale to respond to early warning systems, and coordinating collective action across the international community. In addition to coordinating the global response, the task force should mobilise a donor pledging conference on famine risk.
- Increase the ability of acutely malnourished children to access lifesaving treatment by adopting simplified approaches that are effective and efficient. Sixty million children under 5 are experiencing acute malnutrition, including 18 million children living in conflict and crisis-affected contexts. In Somalia specifically, half of all children are suffering acute malnutrition. Two million children die each year. Treatment with a fortified peanut paste, known as ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), allows the great majority of acutely malnourished children to recover in a matter of weeks.
This lifesaving treatment does not reach 80% of the children in need due to an overly complex and clinical approach to treatment and lack of sustained funding. The IRC has proven innovations to deliver this solution at scale, increasing the number of children treated and lives saved at the same cost as the current approach. Over the past decade, IRC has developed a simplified treatment protocol, using a single product and simplified diagnosis and dosing, that can be delivered by community health workers. This approach eliminates the unnecessary duplication, division and complexity that impede the reach of the prevailing treatment protocol. We know our solution works, even in the most challenging settings.
A recent, largest of its kind study, conducted by the IRC in partnership with the Mali Ministry of Health treated more than 27,000 children with the simplified protocol and saw recovery rates over 90% while decreasing treatment costs by 21% for a severely malnourished child.
Shashwat Saraf, IRC’s Regional Emergency Director of East Africa, said,
“It is absolutely critical that the UN renews the Black Sea Grain Deal for 12 months prior to its expiration on 18 March. Countries across East Africa are depending on it, as they face the most severe hunger crisis of our lifetime. Somalia is on the verge of famine, and is facing an unprecedented drought, and Kenya and Ethiopia have incredibly alarming hunger statistics. Without a Grain Deal renewal, Somalia is likely to reach famine faster and Kenya and Ethiopia will continue to suffer.
"Beyond renewing the Black Sea Grain Deal, the UN also must reenergise its High-Level Task Force on Preventing Famine, prioritising the six countries most at risk and mobilising funding to avert famines as early as possible. The UN also should adopt the IRC’s approach to treating malnutrition: the combined protocol. I’ve seen this approach with my own eyes; I’ve seen it save hundreds of children’s lives. It works and is cheaper. There should be no reason we are not adopting this approach at scale.”
The IRC in East Africa
East Africa is home to some of the IRC’s longest-running programmes globally, with operations in Somalia for over 40 years, Kenya for 30 years and Ethiopia for 20 years. Today, over 2,000 IRC staff in the region are scaling up our programs to address the current drought and rising food insecurity, including expanding to new areas to meet severe needs.