NAIROBI, Kenya -- The first ship carrying grain from Ukraine for people in the hungriest parts of the world has docked at the Horn of Africa port of Djibouti as areas of East Africa are badly affected by deadly drought and conflict.
Food security experts call it a drop in the bucket for the vast needs in the worst-hit Horn countries of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia -- the nation where this first shipment is going. But the flow of grain from Ukraine for other hungry parts of the world is expected to continue.
The U.N. World Food Program has said it is working on multiple shipments.
The program stated this first shipment of grain will be sent overland to northern Ethiopia, where millions of people have been affected by the country's Tigray conflict, which has now flared up again.
How any of the grain will reach Tigray is now in question as humanitarian deliveries by road and air have been suspended amid the fighting that flared again last week between Tigray forces and Ethiopian ones. But Ethiopia's neighboring Amhara and Afar regions also are expected to benefit.
The U.N. World Food Program has said the 25,353 tons of grain on the first ship are enough to feed 1.5 million people on full rations for a month. But the U.N. has said 2.4 million in Tigray alone are severely food insecure and that 20 million people across Ethiopia face hunger.
Millions of other people in the Horn of Africa region are going hungry because of drought and thousands have died. Somalia has been especially hard hit because it sourced at least 90% of its grain from Ukraine and Russia before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Millions of tons of food are needed for the Horn of Africa, the World Food Program said.
"In Ethiopia alone, three-quarters of everything that we used to distribute originated from Ukraine and Russia," regional director Michael Dunford said.
Food security experts said it will take weeks for people in African countries to see grain from Ukraine arrive and even longer to see it bring down high food prices.
Meanwhile, the first vessel carrying grain from Ukraine to conflict-torn Yemen since the war started departed a Black Sea port Tuesday, the U.N. agency said.
The World Food Program said the MV Karteria, with 40,785 tons of wheat grain on board, left the Ukrainian port of Yuzhny. The program-chartered vessel will stop first in Turkey, where the grain will be milled into flour before sailing to Yemen, where over 17 million people are struggling with acute hunger.
"The war in Ukraine has been the last straw in Yemen against a backdrop of prolonged conflict. ... It is paramount to get commodities flowing back into the country and especially grain -- for humanitarian and commercial purposes," said Richard Ragan, the World Food Program's representative in Yemen.
The U.N. agency said the grain will provide a 110-pound bag of wheat flour to nearly 4 million people that will last for about a month and will help the food program address immediate gaps in assistance.
Yemen, the poorest Arab country, depends on direct imports of wheat flour -- a key staple in Yemenis' diet -- from Russia and Ukraine. An estimated 46% of Yemen's 2021 wheat imports came from Ukraine and Russia, according to the U.N. agency.
Far more ships carrying grain from Ukraine's reopened ports have been going to richer places like Europe as existing business contracts are fulfilled. As of Sunday, 114 ships carrying more than 1.3 million tons of food commodities had left Ukraine, the U.N. World Food Program said, but "export volumes remain far below pre-conflict averages."
Information for this article was contributed by Cara Anna and Samy Magdy of The Associated Press.