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UN humanitarian chief calls for extension of Black Sea grain deal

IANS | May 16, 2023 02:48 PM

NEW DELHI: UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths has called for the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allows the export of Ukrainian grain and other agricultural products from Black Sea ports.

Food exported under the initiative -- and food and fertilizer exports from Russia -- continue to make a crucial contribution to global food security as more than 30 million metric tons of cargo have been safely exported from Ukraine under the initiative, he told the Security Council in a briefing.

The exports include about 600, 000 metric tons of wheat transported by the World Food Programme, in direct support of humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen, Xinhua news agency quoted the top UN official as saying.

The latest Food and Agriculture Organization analysis indicates that global cereal prices have fallen by nearly 20 per cent over the past 12 months.

Last month, international wheat prices reached their lowest level since July 2021, driven in part by the continued movement of Ukrainian grain, and by large quantities available for export in Russia and other locations.

"This is undeniable progress. But much more remains to be done. Predictable supplies for humanitarian food assistance operations continue to be required, " Griffiths said via a video link from Geneva.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative refers to the export of Russian ammonia from Ukraine's Odessa port. But this has still not been realized. Over the past month, there has been a reduction in the volumes of exports moving out of Ukraine's Black Sea ports, due to challenging dynamics within the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul set up by the initiative, Griffiths noted.

"In recent weeks, and last week in particular, we have engaged in intensive discussions with the parties to the Black Sea Initiative, to secure agreement on its extension and the improvements needed for it to operate effectively and predictably, " he said.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed separately by Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul with Turkey and the UN on July 22, 2022.

The deal, initially in effect for 120 days, was extended in mid-November 2022 for another 120 days till March 18, 2023.

At that point, Russia only agreed to extend the deal for a further 60 days, till May 18, 2023.

As a parallel agreement, Russia and the UN signed a memorandum of understanding on the facilitation of exports of Russian food and fertilizer.

A senior-level quadrilateral meeting was held last week in Istanbul to discuss the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Those efforts will continue over the coming days, said Griffiths.

"Continuation of the Black Sea Initiative is critically important, as is recommitment by the parties to its smooth and efficient operation. We will continue to call on all (parties) to meet their responsibilities as the world watches very closely, " he said.

It is clear that the people of Ukraine and millions around the world can ill afford a continuation of the Ukraine crisis. More than ever, they need an end to hostilities and a political solution to end the conflict, he said.

"I call on this council and all (UN) member states to support all efforts to bring an end to the carnage and destruction. In the meantime, the UN and its humanitarian partners remain committed to safeguarding the life and dignity of persons affected by the war and to the pursuit of peace -- today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes."

The humanitarian operating environment remains complex and dangerous. Nonetheless, thanks to the courage of humanitarian workers, the United Nations and its partners continue to deliver life-saving assistance to front-line areas and elsewhere across Ukraine, said Griffiths.

Nearly 3.6 million people received humanitarian assistance in Ukraine in the first quarter of 2023. This includes people receiving cash assistance, food, health care and livelihood support.

Around 43 inter-agency convoys have delivered supplies to around 280, 000 people in front-line areas so far this year, with local partners conducting last-mile delivery and distribution, he said.

"It is imperative that we explore all options to reach civilians, wherever they are, " he said.

"Under international humanitarian law, all parties must allow the safe, rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need and must ensure that personnel have the freedom of movement required for their work. I urge the parties to reinforce and strengthen facilitation efforts so we can reach all civilians in need."

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