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The UN’s humanitarian flights to key cities in the Central African Republic have been reduced from three per week to just one every two weeks.Siegfried Modola/Reuters

In one of the world’s poorest countries, the hungry are going hungrier this month. Relief agencies have drastically reduced their emergency aid in the Central African Republic because of fuel shortages that have grounded airplanes and halted truck convoys.

The crisis in the CAR is just one example of the continuing turmoil in low-income countries this year, largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other factors that have caused a spike in food and fuel prices.

Around the world, soaring prices are hammering emergency operations, leading to cuts in food rations, shortages of supplies, rollbacks of humanitarian programs and severe hardship for impoverished families.

A possible agreement on Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports has emerged this week in negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations. But even if a deal is finalized, many analysts are cautious about whether it would finally lift the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

And while an agreement might ease some of the pressure on food prices, it is not expected to resolve the inflation problem for many of the world’s most impoverished people. Fuel prices, for example, would be untouched by a Black Sea agreement.

“The fuel shortage is adding a crisis on top of the crisis,” said Tchatat Yakwa Godain Powel, country director in the CAR for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a leading humanitarian agency, in a statement this week.

Over the past month, the agency’s fuel supply in the CAR has fallen by half. In some regions, it has managed to buy only a quarter of the fuel it needs, triggering a six-day halt in food aid. Fast-rising prices in local markets, combined with a severe shortfall in international funding for humanitarian operations, have further damaged relief operations in the country.

“The lack of fuel is pulling the rug out from under us, while the lack of humanitarian funding prevents us from getting back on our feet,” Mr. Powel said, warning of a “downward spiral” for the CAR if there is not a sharp increase in international support.

More than 60 per cent of the country’s five million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, yet the fuel shortage is forcing a cut to humanitarian programs such as water and sanitation, according to the NRC.

The UN’s humanitarian flights to key cities in the CAR have been reduced from three per week to just one every two weeks, preventing aid workers from reaching people in need, it said.

Meanwhile, in the Horn of Africa, which is already suffering from a devastating drought and an emerging famine in some regions, the surge in food prices is compounding the desperation of millions of people and making it harder for relief agencies to respond.

A basic parcel of maize and beans, enough to feed a family for a month, cost about US$29 in Ethiopia in 2019 but now costs more than US$48, according to research by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

“For organizations like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that provide emergency food, it now costs more to provide food, even though more people are going hungry,” said the organization’s CEO, Andy Harrington.

“In some cases, even if we have a six-month contract with a vendor, some have come back to us to say they need to renegotiate because prices have increased too much for them to honour the original price,” he told The Globe and Mail.

Research by Oxfam shows that food prices in the Horn of Africa are rising much faster than global prices. Maize prices in Somalia, for example, have jumped 78 per cent in the past year. The price of another staple food, sorghum, is now 240-per-cent higher than the five-year average, Oxfam said.

In South Sudan, it said, the cost of bread has doubled in the past year, and cereals were three times more expensive than last year.

In pastoral regions of Ethiopia, before the drought farmers would trade one goat for 100 kilograms of teff, a staple food, but now they must trade three goats for the same amount, a UN report this month said.

Some UN agencies have been obliged to cut back their food rations in several African countries, including South Sudan, because of budget shortages. Appeals to donors have fallen far short of their goals, partly because some donors have diverted their money to Ukraine.

Last month, Ottawa announced $250-million in funds for global food security, especially in Africa. But this is not enough for the crisis expected in the coming months, and the situation is already the worst in decades, Canadian humanitarian groups say.

One agency, Save the Children, says hungry families in the Horn of Africa are already so desperate that they are risking their health by fighting off wild animals for food and drinking water from cattle troughs.

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