David Beasley, the head of the U.N.’s World Food Program, took off his mask to offer a broad smile as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of his agency in 2020. At the time, he said that more than 270 million people were “marching toward starvation.”
That figure is now up to 350 million people, Beasley has said in media interviews this week as he prepares to step down from the position on April 4 — a number larger than the population of the United States. “I thought we could put the World Food Program out of business” when he took the job in 2017, he said in an interview with the BBC broadcast Friday.
The food crisis “is going to get worse,” he added. Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine are all to blame, he said.
Among those 350 million — those the United Nations considers to have acute food insecurity, who must sell essential possessions to obtain food — 50 million people are “knocking on famine’s door,” Beasley said. That latter group refers to those who have access to three or fewer food groups and take in 2,100 calories or less per day.
“That 50 million has got to get food, or otherwise they clearly will die,” he said.
WFP needs to raise $23 billion to help those 350 million people, he told the Associated Press. “Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40 percent of it, quite frankly,” he said.
The best thing that could happen would be for Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war, and to let Ukraine and Russia resume their roles as the breadbaskets of the world, he told the BBC.
Ukraine was the world’s third and fifth biggest seller of corn and wheat, respectively, before the war, while Russia was the world’s largest exporter of wheat and fertilizers, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a data website. The war has depressed the production and export of those products, Beasely has said.
Beasley declined to say whether he agreed with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s assertion that Moscow had weaponized food.
China, the Gulf nations and billionaires must also “step up big time,” he told the Associated Press.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, contributed $12 million to WFP last year. That was less than provided by the likes of New Zealand and Ukraine, which have gross domestic products that were less than 2 percent of China’s in 2021. The United States was, by far, the largest donor, giving $7.2 billion.
Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, did not say whether he would return to U.S. politics after leaving WFP. “Last week, my daughter had our third grandchild, a little girl,” he told the BBC. “And I’m looking forward to going home, and relaxing for at least a few weeks or a couple months, and we’ll see.”
Cindy McCain, who is serving as Washington’s representative to the U.N. Agencies in Rome and is the widow of former senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), will replace Beasley next week.