SEARCY -- Former South Carolina Governor and current United Nations World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley said Wednesday that he told world leaders a food crisis and significant humanitarian crisis not seen since World War II would be imminent after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Beasley spoke at a forum on the Harding University campus focused on global food security. He joined the World Food Programme in 2017 under former President Donald Trump's administration after the former president indicated he wanted to "zero out" strategic international aid.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.
"We're now seeing [higher] food pricing, but next year you probably will see a food availability problem," Beasley said. "Fortunately, we've been able to get Russia back into the Black Sea Grain Initiative in the last 12 hours, which is a very big deal."
Russia said Wednesday that it would resume participation in a program to allow grain exports from Ukraine after suspending its involvement last weekend. Russia agreed in July to create a protected sea transit corridor to allow exports and help alleviate global food shortages.
Ukraine is a top global producer of oil seeds and grain.
"Ukraine grows enough food to feed 400 million people and we were already facing a crisis before," the invasion, Beasley said.
Beasley said while working in his position over the past five years, he has seen how providing aid abroad contributes to global stability.
"Here's what happens when you don't have strategic, effective aid like food aid in places like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Columbia, Ecuador or places like that; it's like having water lines in the ceiling and four or five of those water lines have leaks in them and it's leaking and if you don't fix it -- and it's a pretty cheap fix to address the root cause -- you're going to end up having to replace the chairs, carpet, flooring and furniture and it's going to cost you a thousand times more," Beasley said.
When it comes to strategic international aid, Beasley said if leaders don't do it out of the goodness of their hearts, they should consider doing it out of national security or financial interests.
"Like the leaking water lines, you're going to pay for it one way or the other," Beasley said. "I can help a Guatemalan child inside their village for $1 to $2 a week and create food stability. That same child ends up at the border in a shelter, it's $4,000 a week. You have to choose which one, there is no option C."
Beasley said he went into his job at the World Food Programme aiming to reduce the program's impact, but saw how disasters, wars, the covid-19 pandemic and climate change have affected people living in poverty.
"The Ukraine crisis has exacerbated a perfect storm, and as I said in my Nobel Peace Prize speech in December ... 2022 will be the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II," Beasley said.
"Little did I know that war would break out in Ukraine and we would have a grain crisis. Compounded within that, though, is the fact that the No. 1 exporter of fertilizer is Russia."