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The Lowdown Hub

49 million people face famine as Ukraine war, climate disasters intensify

People rest under a bridge in New Delhi on May 29 as the northern region of India experienced the warmest weather in 122 years. (Saumya Khandelwal/Bloomberg)

With temperatures spiking to 110 degrees once more, Jeetram Yadav sat in the shade on his farm outside New Delhi and cupped a handful of this season’s disappointing wheat between his calloused palms. The grains were brown and the size of cumin seeds, shriveled by heat.

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“I can speak for my village: Everybody has had the same fate,” said Yadav, a 70-year-old who grows wheat and rice on his 2.6-acre plot.

Yadav’s shriveled grains are a small part of the dangerous feedback loop between climate-linked weather disasters and the war in Ukraine that have sent food prices soaring around the world and raising the risk of an epidemic of starvation.

When Russia invaded earlier this year, threatening Ukraine’s exports of grains, crop-rich India was seen as a global buffer, making up for the shortfall. But this spring’s erratic rains and scorching heat killed crops and made it dangerous for farmworkers to harvest, devastating India’s production. In response, India announced in May it would shut down all grain exports, staving off famine in the country but threatening starvation abroad.

It was yet another climate-driven shock to a global food system already in upheaval, and a sign of the hunger crisis that looms as the planet warms.

As of last week, about 750,000 people around the world were facing a food security “catastrophe” — at which “starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident" —