NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The first ship carrying grain from Ukraine for people in the hungriest parts of the world has docked at the port of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as parts of East Africa East are hard hit by drought and deadly conflicts.
Food security experts call it a drop in the ocean for the vast needs of the worst affected countries in the Horn of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, the country where this first shipment is headed. But the flow of grain from Ukraine to other starving parts of the world is expected to continue, with another ship leaving for Yemen on Tuesday. The United Nations World Food Program said it was working on several ships.
WFP says this first shipment of grain will be shipped overland to northern Ethiopia, where millions have been affected by the Tigray conflict, which has now flared up again.
How the grain will reach Tigray is now in question as humanitarian deliveries by road and air have been suspended amid fighting that erupted again last week between Tigray and Ethiopian forces. But Ethiopia’s neighboring regions, Amhara and Afar, should also benefit.
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The WFP said the 23,000 metric tonnes of grain on the first ship was enough to feed 1.5 million people with full rations for a month. But the UN said 2.4 million people in Tigray alone are severely food insecure and 20 million people across Ethiopia face hunger.
Millions more people in the Horn of Africa region are starving due to drought, and thousands have died. Somalia has been particularly hard hit as it sourced at least 90% of its grain from Ukraine and Russia before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Millions of tonnes of food are needed for the Horn of Africa, WFP said. “In Ethiopia alone, three-quarters of everything we used to distribute came from Ukraine and Russia,” said regional manager Michael Dunford.
Food security experts say it will take weeks for people in African countries to see grain arrive from Ukraine and even longer to see them bring down the high food prices that have been a source of desperation and protests in many countries.
Many more ships carrying grain from reopened ports in Ukraine are heading to wealthier places like Europe as existing trade contracts are fulfilled. As of Sunday, 114 ships carrying more than 1.2 million metric tons of foodstuffs had left Ukraine, the WFP said, but “export volumes remain well below pre-conflict averages”.