Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
July 20, 2022
Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, distinguished committee members: Thank you so much for the opportunity to testify here today with Administrator Power.
Now, my mother was a cook and I think she was the best cook ever – as I’m sure most of you feel about your own moms. She shared her gift widely, and not just with our family. She’d cook for the entire community all at once. And even though we didn’t have much, we made regular mass meals for anyone who was hungry. My mother did this for a simple reason. She believed no one should ever have to go hungry.
Over the course of my career, I have seen what happens to people and communities who have hunger thrust upon them. I have looked into the gaunt eyes of children who are, as the doctors say, wasting: their rib bones poking out, their parents helpless to save them. And I have seen a child die, right in front of me, from malnutrition. Once you see something like that, you never forget it. And you keep it close to your heart.
It is for that reason that when I first arrived at the UN in 2021 and assumed the Presidency of the UN Security Council, I made our signature event that month focused on conflict-induced hunger. Because we knew that the vast majority of widespread hunger is man-made. And hunger is caused, often intentionally, by conflict.
Then came Russia’s brutal, illegal, and unprovoked further invasion into Ukraine. And you combine that with a cocktail of COVID-19, climate change, high energy prices, and pre-existing conflict, and the world’s food crisis has become colossal. After all, Ukraine, as you noted, Senator, was the breadbasket for the developing world. And according to the World Bank, some countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia typically got up to 75 percent of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
Russia has systematically sabotaged and destroyed Ukraine’s farmland, equipment and infrastructure, and grain stockpiles. And Russia’s naval blockade in the Black Sea, and the threat of further naval attacks, are currently preventing Ukraine’s crops from being exported to their destinations. We hope, for that reason, that the recent Ukraine-Russia talks, that are being facilitated by the UN in Istanbul with Turkey, will yield results.
In the meantime, we estimate that more than 20 million tons of grain are trapped in silos and ships, at risk of rotting away. As long as Putin continues his war in Ukraine, millions and millions of people around the world won’t know when or where they’ll get their next meal. Countries in the Middle East and Africa will feel those effects most acutely.
To make matters worse, severe heat and other extreme weather events are ruining crops around the world. This is a five-alarm emergency. And I have never seen a food security crisis like this in my career. This is the kind of problem that no one nation can solve alone – it’s the kind of problem that requires serious and sustained multilateral cooperation.
And again, that’s why in May, during our Presidency, Secretary Blinken joined me in New York, and we hosted a series of Days of Action on Food Security, and we brought together our closest partners to craft a Roadmap for Global Food Security. A hundred countries have now signed on to a common picture of this crisis and a common agenda for addressing it. And since the ministerial, we have been working together with the UN, and G7, and others to partner to get more donors around the world.
But Russia claims falsely that sanctions posed by the U.S. and allies are to blame for the global increase in food prices. But Russia knows full well, as you noted, that food and fertilizer are specifically excluded from U.S. sanctions.
The good news is that we have the tools to stop hunger and alleviate suffering. And we have to use them – and rally the world to do the same. And in this vein, we are sincerely grateful to Congress for providing the funding that you’ve already appropriated to respond to this crisis.
I know that Administrator Power will speak in more depth about our efforts on the ground. But I want you to know that – together – we will continue to rally the world to take on the global food security crisis through every multilateral channel that we have, because, as my mother believed to her bones, no child should have to go to bed hungry – and that is what we are working together to do.
Thank you. And I am honored to be here to take your questions.