Washington is stepping up to buy about 150,000 metric tonnes of grain from Ukraine, says World Food Program chief and urges Gulf states, who he says are making record-breaking oil profits, to chip in with help.

WFP's David Beasley says the Horn of Africa is facing a
WFP's David Beasley says the Horn of Africa is facing a "perfect storm on top of a perfect storm, a tsunami on top of a tsunami". (AP)

The United States is stepping up to buy about 150,000 metric tonnes of grain from Ukraine in the next few weeks for an upcoming shipment of food aid from ports no longer blockaded by conflict, the World Food Program (WFP) chief has told the Associated Press news agency.

The final destinations for the grain are not confirmed and discussions continue, David Beasley said.

But the planned shipment, one of several the UN agency that fights hunger is pursuing, is more than six times the amount of grain that the first WFP-arranged ship from Ukraine is now carrying toward people in the Horn of Africa at risk of starvation.

Beasley spoke from northern Kenya, which is deep in a drought that is withering the Horn of Africa region. He sat under a thorn tree among local women who told the AP that the last time it rained was in 2019.

Their bone-dry communities face yet another failed rainy season within weeks that could tip parts of the region, especially neighboring Somalia, into famine. Already, thousands of people have died. WFP says 22 million people are hungry.

"I think there's a high probability we'll have a declaration of famine" in the coming weeks, Beasley said.

He called the situation facing the Horn of Africa a "perfect storm on top of a perfect storm, a tsunami on top of a tsunami" as the drought-prone region struggles to cope amid high food and fuel prices driven partly by the conflict in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.

The keenly awaited first aid ship from Ukraine is carrying 23,000 metric tonnes of grain, enough to feed 1.5 million people on full rations for a month, Beasley said.

It is expected to dock in Djibouti on August 26 or 27, and the wheat is supposed to be shipped overland to northern Ethiopia, where millions of people in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions have faced not only drought but deadly conflict.

READ MORE: More than 50 million face acute food insecurity across east Africa

Day of Gulf countries' oil profits could save millions

The slow reopening of Ukraine's ports and the cautious movement of cargo ships across the mined Black Sea won't solve the global food security crisis, Beasley said, urging that richer countries must do much more to keep grain and other assistance flowing to the hungriest parts of the world, and he named names.

"With oil profits being so high right now — record-breaking profits, billions of dollars every week — the Gulf states need to help, need to step up and do it now," Beasley said, adding, it’s inexcusable not to. "Particularly since these are their neighbours, these are their brothers, their family."

He asserted the WFP could save "millions of lives" with just one day of Gulf countries' oil profits.

China needs to help as well, Beasley said. "China's the second-largest economy in the world, and we get diddly-squat from China," or very little, he added.

Some of the world's poorest people without enough food are in northern Kenya, where animal carcasses are slowly stripped to the bone beneath an ungenerous sky.

"Don't forget us," resident Hasan Mohamud told Beasley. "Even the camels have disappeared. Even the donkeys have succumbed."

READ MORE: World hit by 'unprecedented hunger crisis', 2023 could be worse — UN

Source: AP