NAIROBI, Kenya — The first ship to transport grain from Ukraine to people in the hungriest parts of the world has docked in the Horn of Africa in Djibouti as areas in East Africa have been hit hard by deadly drought and conflict.
Food security experts are calling it a drop in the bucket for the huge need in the worst-hit Horn countries of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia — the country receiving this first shipment. However, the flow of grain from Ukraine to other hungry parts of the world is expected to continue.
The United Nations World Food Program said it was working on several shipments.
According to the program, this first shipment of grain is to be sent overland to northern Ethiopia, where millions of people are affected by the Tigray conflict, which has since flared up again.
How the grain will reach Tigray is now in question as humanitarian supplies have been suspended by road and air amid fighting that flared up again last week between Tigray and Ethiopian forces. But Ethiopia’s neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar should also benefit from this.
The United Nations World Food Program said the 25,353 tonnes of grain on the first ship is enough to feed 1.5 million people on full rations for a month. But the United Nations has said 2.4 million are severely food insecure in Tigray alone and 20 million people are suffering from hunger across Ethiopia.
Millions of other people in the Horn of Africa region are starving due to drought and thousands have died. Somalia was hit particularly hard 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, according to the World Food Program.
“In Ethiopia alone, three quarters of everything we distributed came from Ukraine and Russia,” said Michael Dunford, regional director.
Food security experts said it will be weeks before people in African countries see grain arriving from Ukraine and even longer before it brings down high food prices.
Meanwhile, the first ship to transport grain from Ukraine to conflict-torn Yemen since the start of the war left a Black Sea port on Tuesday, the UN agency said.
The World Food Program said the MV Karteria left the Ukrainian port of Yuzhny with 40,785 tons of wheat grains on board. The ship chartered by the program will first stop in Turkey, where the grain will be ground into flour, before sailing to Yemen, where over 17 million people are battling acute hunger.
“The war in Ukraine was the last straw in Yemen against a backdrop of ongoing conflict. … It is of paramount importance that raw materials and especially grain flow back into the country – for humanitarian and commercial purposes,” said Richard Ragan, the representative of the World Food Program in Yemen.
The UN agency said the grain will provide nearly 4 million people with a 110-pound sack of wheat flour, which will last about a month and help the food program fill immediate gaps in support.
Yemen, the poorest Arab country, relies on direct imports of wheat flour – a staple of Yemenis – from Russia and Ukraine. According to the UN agency, an estimated 46% of Yemen’s wheat imports in 2021 came from Ukraine and Russia.
Far more ships transporting grain from Ukraine’s reopened ports have headed to wealthier countries like Europe as existing business contracts are honored. As of Sunday, 114 ships carrying more than 1.3 million tons of food had left Ukraine, the UN World Food Program said, but “export volumes remain well below pre-conflict averages.”
Information for this article was contributed by Cara Anna and Samy Magdy of The Associated Press.