After 100 days of war, UN works to free up vital food and fertilizer exports

The United Nations

One hundred days since the 24 February Russian invasion of Ukraine, UN humanitarians on Friday issued a fresh alert about the enormous needs there, as the Organization has continued to push to secure food and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia, to the wider world, amid rising and alarming levels of food insecurity.

Amin Awad, UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, confirmed that the Organization was making every effort to secure the release of grain stuck in Ukraine's Black Sea ports. Equally important for the world's farmers is a secure supply of fertilizer from Russia, a major world producer.

Leading the discussions are top UN officials Martin Griffiths - the Organization's Emergency Relief Coordinator - and Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the UN Trade and Development agency, UNCTAD.

Complex puzzle

"The negotiations are going on," said Mr. Awad, speaking to journalists in Geneva from Kyiv. "There (are) a lot of details and shuttling between Moscow and other countries that have concerns and the negotiations continue. But there's no clear-cut emerging solution right now because it's a board of puzzles that they have to move it together."

Highlighting the difficulties linked to international trade with Russia even though there are no sanctions on food and fertilizer humanitarian exports from the country, Mr. Awad explained that Ms. Grynspan was working "with other financial institutions and the West in general to see how Russia can really, as far as transactions are concerned, resume".

1.5 billion impacted

Around 1.5 billion people "are in need of that food and fertilizers" around the world, the UN official explained, adding that he hoped that the negotiations "really go in a smooth manner and be concluded as soon as possible so that the blockade of ports and the resumption of export of fertilizer and food takes place, before we have another crisis in hand."

Today, at least 15.7 million people in Ukraine are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection, Mr. Awad said. Numbers are rising by the day as the war continues, and with winter around the corner, the lives of hundreds of thousands are in peril.

"Today we mark 100 days from the Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine," said Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative and Head of the WHO Country Office in Ukraine.

Speaking from Lviv in the west of the country, he added that it was "100 days too many, and it has put the health system under huge stress…We have verified 269 attacks on health", he said, and 76 deaths together with at least 59 injured during those assaults.

Although humanitarians have explored different ways of transporting grain from Ukraine to the wider world, the only viable solution is by sea, given the huge amount of cereals and other essential foodstuffs produced.

"The five million tonnes a month, that's 100 ships a month," said Mr. Awad, adding that rail transportation or trucking, could not manage the same volume and were fraught with logistical problems. "So, is really has to be a maritime movement…to export 50 to 60 million tonnes of food out to the world."

A 70-year-old woman stands in the doorway of her bombed and burnt out apartment in central Chernihiv, Ukraine.
A 70-year-old woman stands in the doorway of her bombed and burnt out apartment in central Chernihiv, Ukraine.

Jobless on the breadline

Inside Ukraine, people's everyday needs continue to grow, as the Russian advance in the eastern oblasts continues. Nearly 14 million people have been forced to flee, about one third of the entire population of Ukraine, and workers have lost their jobs and are queuing for food, UN humanitarians said.

"Clearly our biggest challenges are getting aid into the hardest-to-reach areas of this country, the wartorn areas, the occupied areas, the areas around the front line," said Matthew Hollingworth, Emergency Coordinator for WFP in Ukraine.

Speaking from Lviv, he explained that "36 per cent of everything we've done in last three months has been to support those areas of the country. But it's not enough, it's nowhere near enough. And clearly, we need those continuous appeals to be heard for unimpeded humanitarian access into those areas of the country."

He added: "We have returned to a breadbasket of the world where now sadly people are having to become significant recipients of humanitarian assistance. Where hungry people are standing in breadlines when this is the breadbasket of the world."

Health needs are also critical for the country's women, 265,000 of whom were pregnant before the Russian invasion.

C-sections, under fire

"We have received reports and heard testimonies from doctors about deliveries, including C-sections, taking place in the basements of maternity hospitals, in shelters, and even in metro stations," said Jaime Nadal, the UN Population Fund's (UNFPA) representative in Ukraine.

Speaking from a railway station in Lviv, he added that other surgeries had taken place "in hard-to-reach areas with gynaecologists giving remote, online instructions during childbirth to save the lives of both the mother and newborn".

Displacement and multiple displacement continues to impact Ukrainians, particularly the most vulnerable, warned the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

"In Dnipro I saw buses with people who had evacuated from locations at Bakhmut arriving very visibly shaken," said Karolina Lindholm Billing, UNHCR Representative in Ukraine.

Elderly, alone, and on the run

Speaking from Vinnitsya in central Ukraine, she explained that most of the arrivals she saw were elderly people "who had difficulties walking alone and came really with next to nothing in their hands. And for some, this was the second or even the third time that they have fled since 2014."

UN migration agency IOM, has continued to track the movement of people displaced by the war - including returnees - since it began on 24 February.

"Most of these returns have taken place to the north region of Ukraine including almost one million persons to Kyiv itself," said Stephen Rogers, IOM Ukraine deputy chief of mission. "However, when those persons returned to northern and central regions…33 per cent in the central region (and) 21 per cent in the north, those people who returned found destruction of their property and will need to rebuild."

In common with conflicts everywhere, vast swathes of Ukraine are now contaminated with unexploded ordnance or mines, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned.

"Demining issues are of utmost priority for UNDP, we're working with different government authorities to address this issue," said Manal Fouani, acting UNDP Ukraine Resident Representative. "The estimation by the Government is that more than 300,000 square kilometres - that's almost half the territory of Ukraine - are contaminated."

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