The world faces a “human catastrophe” from a food crisis arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, World Bank president David Malpass has said.
He told the BBC that record rises in food prices would push hundreds of millions people into poverty and lower nutrition, if the crisis continues.
The World Bank calculates there could be a “huge” 37% jump in food prices.
This would hit the poor hardest, who will “eat less and have less money for anything else such as schooling”.
In an interview with BBC economics editor Faisal Islam, Mr Malpass, who leads the institution charged with global alleviation of poverty, said the impact on the poor made it “an unfair kind of crisis… that was true also of Covid”.
“It’s a human catastrophe, meaning nutrition goes down. But then it also becomes a political challenge for governments who can’t do anything about it, they didn’t cause it and they see the prices going up,” he said on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington.
The price rises are broad and deep, he said: “It’s affecting food of all different kinds oils, grains, and then it gets into other crops, corn crops, because they go up when wheat goes up”.
There was enough food in the world to feed everybody, he said, and global stockpiles are large by historical standards, but there will have to be a sharing or sales process to get the food to where it is needed.
Mr Malpass also discouraged countries from subsidising production or capping prices.
Instead, he said, the focus needed to be on increasing supplies across the world of fertilisers and food, alongside targeted assistance for the very poorest people.
The World Bank chief also warned of a knock on “crisis within a crisis” arising from the inability of developing countries to service their large pandemic debts, amid rising food and energy prices.
“This is a very real prospect. It’s happening for some countries, we don’t know how far it’ll go. As many as 60% of the poorest countries right now are either in debt distress or at high risk of being in debt distress,” he said.
“We have to be worried about a debt crisis, the best thing to do is to start early to act early on finding ways to reduce the debt burden for countries that are on have unsustainable debt, the longer you put it off, the worse it is,” he added.