War In Ukraine Means Malnourished Children Worldwide

A child named Ali is born in Somalia, a country dependent on Ukrainian wheat. If the world continues on its current path, Ali and all of his friends will grow up living with a daily risk of starvation. The active conflict between Russia and Ukraine will have catastrophic long-lasting

effects on malnutrition in The Horn of Africa, countries reliant on Ukraine’s wheat exports. A permanent solution allowing grain shipments from both Russia and Ukraine is necessary going forward to prevent the consequences of malnutrition for the next generation.

According to UNICEF, 144 million children under the age of 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition, also known as stunting, may never develop to their full cognitive or physical potential. The first 1,000 days of life are the most important for a newborn’s brain development, and even acute malnutrition can have irreversible effects. According to another study by JAMA pediatrics, these effects can include long-term cognitive development issues and problems with sensory pathways. The study further stated that children who exhibited three indicators or more of malnutrition in early childhood had poorer reading ability and school performance than the average child.

According to the 2016 Global Nutrition Report, in countries with a high prevalence of child malnutrition, every $1 USD spent on nutritional efforts, such as Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF),  to combat wasting or stunting was met with a $16 USD return on investment. It is further estimated that the total impact of malnutrition on the global economy can be as high as $3.5 trillion USD in lost revenue. This impact can be catastrophic to the economic systems in countries economically developing like Somalia.

Somalia and several other countries in Eastern Africa are experiencing record-breaking droughts after four consecutive poor rainy seasons. Compounded by both rising food prices and a lack of available food due to the active conflict in Ukraine, two of the world’s largest wheat exporters, experts have deep concerns about the correlating rising rates of child malnutrition.

Russia is the single largest exporter of wheat in the world, contributing nearly 20% of the global market. However, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March of 2022, the international community placed sanctions against Russian exports, including wheat. Although this directly conflicts with the objective of the war, Russia’s best course of action is to let Ukraine’s grain be exported.

The invasion has also prevented Ukraine’s ability to export, as prior to 2022, Ukraine was the fifth largest wheat exporter worldwide. If Russia lets Ukraine freely export its wheat, Russian exports of grain should be exempt from sanctions after some time. This would mutually benefit the falling Russian economy and the global food trade, preventing an unnecessary hunger crisis.

On July 22nd, Turkey facilitated a grain export treaty between Ukraine and Russia that took effect immediately. Unfortunately, less than 24 hours after the signing of this deal, Russian troops staged an attack on the port of Odesa. This deal is only in place for 120 days, and as this is only halfway through, it has become clear that a new solution will be necessary. Russian leadership has recently threatened to pull out of the deal after grain exports have not been sent to destinations the Russians believed they would be sent to. After 120 days have passed, a permanent agreement that benefits both parties is necessary for the sake of the entire world.

According to the UN agency, the World Food Program (WFP), this crisis “includes 50 million people in 45 countries that are knocking on famine’s door.” (Beasley) They further stated that 40% of their wheat supplies come from Ukraine, and failure to open ports would be seen as a declaration of war on global food security.

This is not the first circumstance of countries facing detrimental famines due to internal and external conflicts. For example, in 2011, Somalia’s civil war caused the worst famine of the 21st century so far, resulting in the deaths of around 250,000 citizens. If the world had taken humanitarian action earlier, the total number of lives lost could’ve been reduced. Now, 11 years after the civil war ended, the UN announced that famine is once again at the door of Somalia, and the IRC warns that millions of lives are now at stake.

If no permanent solution is enacted shortly, the drought caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict this year has the potential to be even more devastating than the 2011 famine, affecting over 36 million people. According to Binyam Gebru of Save the Children, “The caseload (of children with severe malnutrition in Somalia) is way higher than the existing facilities can hold.” Gebru goes on to further state that extremist groups occupying territories throughout Somalia exacerbated the crisis, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 125,000 children from dehydration and starvation in 2011.

The global humanitarian industry has the ability to prevent the global economic and starvation crisis that will occur due to this war. Otherwise, the devastation that will be caused to Ali and his entire generation growing up malnourished is unparalleled.