NEW YORK: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has stressed upon the international community to work together with combined efforts to overcome the looming global food crises, impacting lives of millions of people across the globe. Addressing a ministerial meeting on “Global Food Security” at the UN headquarters, the foreign minister said that the food crisis had no respect for borders, and no country could overcome it alone. “Our only chance of lifting millions of people out of hunger is to act together, urgently and with solidarity. Ending hunger is within our reach. There is enough food in our world now for everyone, if we act together,” he added. Bilawal further cautioned that unless they solve this problem today, they might face the specter of global food shortages in the coming months. “Global hunger levels are at a new high. In just two years, the number of severely food insecure people has doubled, from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today. More than half a million people are living in famine conditions – an increase of more than 500 percent since 2016,” he added. He said that as they would discuss in the Security Council tomorrow, these frightening figures were inextricably linked with conflict, as both cause, and effect. “If we do not feed people, we feed conflict,” Bilawal added. The foreign minister suggested five urgent steps for governments, international financial institutions and others, to solve the short-term crisis and prevent long-term catastrophe. First, he said, they must urgently reduce the pressure on markets by increasing supplies of food and fertilizers. There should be no restrictions on exports, and surpluses must be made available to those most in need. But let’s be clear: there was no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets despite the war, he added. The foreign minister said Russia must permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports. Alternative transportation routes could be explored – even if they knew that by itself, they would not be enough to solve the problem. Russian food and fertilizers must have unrestricted access to world markets without indirect impediments. “I have been in intense contact on this issue with the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Turkey, the US, the European Union and several other key countries. I am hopeful, but there is still a long way to go” he added. The foreign minister said the complex security, economic and financial implications required goodwill on all sides for a package deal to be reached. Second, he said, social protection systems needed to cover everyone in need, with the right combinations of food, cash and support for water, sanitation, nutrition, and livelihoods. “Which in turn means, third: finance is essential. Developing countries must have access to liquidity so that they can provide social protection to everyone in need. International financial institutions need to step in with generous investments to prevent a global debt crisis,” he emphasized. The foreign minister said that there was no answer to the food crisis without an answer to the finance crisis. “Official Development Assistance is more necessary than ever. Diverting it to other priorities is not an option while the world is on the brink of mass hunger,” he added. Bilawal said the governments must bolster agricultural production and invest in resilient food systems that protect smallholder food producers. Referring to the current high prices of fuel and fertilizers for the farmers, he said that governments must be able to support them with subsidies, and connect them to markets. “Fifth, humanitarian operations must be fully funded to prevent famine and reduce hunger,” he opined. The foreign minister said the humanitarian organizations have a proven track record of preventing famine, most recently in South Sudan and Yemen. “But they need resources. And those resources must be used for maximum good, by exempting humanitarian food purchases from taxes, sanctions, and other restrictions,” he added. The foreign minister said that they were closely monitoring the global food security outlook and using their convening power to push for immediate steps. The Global Crisis Response Group on food, energy and finance was tackling the impact of the crisis on vulnerable people, identifying and pushing for solutions, he added. The foreign minister sharing his personal experience said that the two weeks ago, he had visited the Sahel region of Africa, where he met families who did not know where their next meal was coming from. “Severe acute malnutrition – a wasting disease that can kill if left untreated – is rising. Farm animals are already dying of hunger, he added. He said, the leaders told him that because of the war in Ukraine, on top of the other crises they faced, they feared this dangerous situation could tip into catastrophe. They were not alone. Citing another factor, the foreign minister said the climate emergency was another driver of global hunger. Over the past decade, 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters. The economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded food insecurity, reducing incomes and disrupting supply chains, he said, adding an uneven recovery from the pandemic has already put many developing countries on the brink of debt default and restricted access to financial markets. He said and now the Russian invasion in Ukraine was amplifying and accelerating all these factors; climate change, COVID-19, and inequality. “It threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine, in a crisis that could last for years,” he added. Between them,Ukraine and Russia produced almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil. Russia and Belarus are the world’s number two and three producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertilizer. In the past year, he said global food prices have risen by nearly one-third, fertilizer by more than half, and oil prices by almost two-thirds. Most developing countries lacked the fiscal space to cushion the blow of these huge increases. Many could not borrow because markets were closed to them. Those that were able to borrow were charged high interest rates that put them at risk of debt distress and default. “If high fertilizer prices continue, today’s crisis in grain and cooking oil could affect many other foods including rice, impacting billions of people in Asia and the Americas,” he maintained. Foreign minister Bilawal further said that high rates of hunger have a devastating impact on individuals, families, and societies.“Children may suffer the lifetime effects of stunting. Millions of women and children will become malnourished; girls will be pulled from schools and forced to work or get married; and families will embark on dangerous journeys across continents, just to survive,” he cautioned.