Jun 9, 2022 - World

U.S. pledges $331M as Russia blockade worsens food crisis in the Americas

Illustration of a hands holding a fork and knife next to an empty plate sitting on an American dollar

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Biden administration is committing $331 million to fight food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean, with more efforts still to be announced this week at the Summit of the Americas.

Why it matters: The U.N.'s World Food Programme reports the number of severely food insecure people increased by over half a million from December 2021 to March 2022 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Roughly 4 million people in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, also known as the Northern Triangle, need food assistance, USAID administrator Samantha Power said at the summit on Wednesday.
  • COVID-19 worsened food-insecurity in the region, and now Russia is blocking exports from Ukraine, which "is a massively exacerbating factor," she told Axios.

Between the lines: Russia and Ukraine produce nearly a third of the world's traded wheat and barley, according to Power.

  • When that amount of food is taken off the global market — as well as needed fertilizers — the impact can be severe, including for import-dependent Central American nations, she told Axios.
  • Russia's blockade has already worsened a devastating food crisis in several African nations.
  • Power told Axios the region will need "every last ounce" of U.S. emergency assistance, as well as help from other donors, which is "complicated by the fact that European countries are now spending so much on Ukrainian refugees and displacement inside Ukraine and those food needs."

The big picture: Growing food insecurity is tied to one of the Biden administration's priorities for the summit — addressing migration. Record numbers of migrants from across the hemisphere are still arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • "In all of the debriefs that get done with people who attempt to cross the border illegally and may be apprehended, over the years, you have seen food insecurity as a source of migration," Power told Axios.

Details: The $331 million will benefit El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, also known as the Northern Triangle, along with Haiti, Colombia and Peru.

  • Most will go toward food security — either in direct emergency aid or investing in longer-term efforts, such as helping boost farmers' crop yields. Some will go toward other humanitarian needs.
  • The administration will announce this week additional emergency food assistance for Venezuelans — both in their country and living elsewhere, Power said at the event.
  • "When the Summit ends on Friday, we, the United States, expect to have committed over half a billion dollars to meet urgent food and humanitarian needs in the region," Power said.

What to watch: In addition to the new, sweeping economic framework unveiled this week by the Biden administration to counter China's expanding Belt and Road Initiatives in Latin America, humanitarian aid also serves as a way for the U.S. to show its support for a region increasingly turning to China.

  • "When it comes to humanitarian assistance, and who the largest contributors are in a crisis — that's not an area that that China has moved into," Power told Axios.
  • "When it comes to emergencies, they know who the leading donor is and who the partner is, and that is the United States."
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