Hungry Mouths, 'Catastrophe' Ahead if Russia Continues Blockades: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is warning the world's political and economic elites of a looming humanitarian crisis if Russia blocks grain exports from his country.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum underway in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky warned some countries would see famine if Ukraine remains unable to bring its food products to market due to Russian forces occupying its Black Sea ports, according to Ukrainian news outlet NV. As Zelensky has lobbied world leaders for help against Russia's invasion, the Ukrainian leader is warning the conflict's effects will be felt beyond its borders.

Zelensky said 22 million tons of grain, sunflower and other food is currently being blocked by Russian forces, which he said completely controls Ukraine's ports on the Black and Azov seas, reports NV.

"If we do not export [grain] in the coming months, if there are no political agreements with Russia through intermediaries—there will be famine, there will be a catastrophe, there will be a deficit, there will be a high price. And all this is rotting in our state," Zelensky said during a discussion at the Ukraine House Davos, according to NV.

Ukrainian farmer holding harvested grain
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on the political and economical elite to facilitate grain, corn and sunflower oil exports to other regions of the world. Above, a farmer shows a newly harvested grain in Stadnytca village in Ukraine, about 100 miles south of the capital city of Kyiv, on August 10, 2009. GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

Zelensky called on "all the elite—the business elite, the political elite" to take action to allow the grain to be exported to Asia, African and European countries.

Together, Ukraine and Russia produce nearly 30 percent of the world's wheat and barley, as well as a fifth of the world's corn and over half of its sunflower oil, according to the United Nations.

David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, earlier this month again sounded the alarm about how the conflict could squeeze the world's food supply. Known as "Europe's breadbasket," Beasley said millions of people are "marching towards starvation" unless Ukraine's ports are reopened.

A group of economists with the World Economic Forum on Monday issued a report predicting reduced economic activity, higher inflation, lower wages and more global food insecurity.

"The pandemic and war in Ukraine have fragmented the global economy and created far-reaching consequences that risk wiping out the gains of the last 30 years," Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum managing director, said in a statement.

According to the report, 36 countries imported more than half of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine in 2020. The report expects the war in Ukraine to exacerbate a "global hunger and a cost-of-living crisis" with wheat prices expected to increase by 40 percent this year and prices for vegetable oils, cereals and meat already at record highs.

Speaking at the forum, Zelensky proposed creating an organization of food-exporting countries to combat world hunger.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian government for comment.