LONDON: The World Food Programme (WFP) said it was optimistic about a UN-brokered deal to reopen Ukrainian ports for grain exports but warned the agreement alone will not solve the global food crisis even if it is implemented effectively.

Russia, Ukraine, the United Nations and Turkey signed a deal on Friday aimed at allowing safe passage for ships going in and out of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports that have been blocked by Russia since Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion.

Ukraine and Russia are major grains exporters and the port blockade has trapped tens of millions of tonnes of grain in the country. Along with Western sanctions on Russia, it has sent energy and food prices soaring, sparking protests in developing countries that depend on Black Sea grains.

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The WFP itself has had to cut aid this year in key hunger hotspots like Yemen and South Sudan due to global inflation and critical funding gaps, both exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict.

“We’re optimistic the deal could lead to improvements in global food prices. Countries dependent on grain supplies from the Black Sea would likely be the first to feel a positive impact,” a WFP spokesperson told Reuters.

She added, however, that the current global food crisis is not a price crisis alone, and that man-made conflict, climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to keep food prices elevated even if Friday’s deal holds, which is by no means a certainty.

Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa on Saturday, sparking alarm the deal could be derailed one day after it was signed, though the Kremlin has brushed this aside, saying the strike only targeted military infrastructure.

Before the conflict, the WFP used to buy more than half its wheat from Ukraine. The agency, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, says some 47 million people face “acute hunger” this year due to the current global food crisis.


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