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With the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, signs of optimism are hard to find.

The war has caused all sorts of problems, ones that have spilled far beyond each nation’s borders. Sky-high energy prices are one of the first things that come to mind, but equally crushing (if not more), is the escalating price of food, and the scarcity of it in developing nations.

Ukraine in particular is known as a “breadbasket,” as it’s known to export wheat and grains to several countries. But for the past several weeks, a blockade at the ports in the Black Sea have prevented grain from being shipped. Only one-sixth of the pre-pandemic levels have made it out.

Fortunately, it was announced on Friday that the two countries — with the help of the United Nations and the government of Turkey – signed agreements to allow millions of tons or Ukrainian grain to be exported. Since the Russia-Ukraine war began in late February, some 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain have been trapped at the Black Sea ports.

This is a major breakthrough. Several countries in Africa, in particular, where Islamic Relief conducts several programs to strengthen food security—depend on this grain to feed their populations. Without this precious resource, countries like Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, among others, face additional suffering and a greater likelihood of a full-blown famine.

Each of these countries had already been battling various climate-related problems, such as droughts. According to the Washington Post, over 7 million people in Somalia face acute food insecurity, with almost 250,000 people at risk of imminent starvation because of the grain blockade.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres celebrated the positive news.

“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea,” Guterres said. “A beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief in a world that needs it more than ever.”

“You have overcome obstacles and put aside differences to pave the way for an initiative that will serve the common interests of all,” Dire warnings stemming from blockade had been broadcast earlier this year. The World Food Program stated that this action particularly threatened food security in countries like Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. Virtually all of these areas are conflict zones or at the very least, struggling with some form of instability. Another study by the International Rescue Committee estimated that some 14 million in the Horn of Africa are at risk of starvation.

Taking all these things into consideration, the agreements signed by Russia and Ukraine to end the blockade is welcome news. But just a few days later, it was reported that Russia launched missiles into Odessa, where the ports are located. This is disturbing news, and we hope this doesn’t lead to further escalation.

It’s deplorable enough that food and raw materials are being weaponized to begin with, putting at risk millions of people. We pray and hope such draconian, man-made actions be prevented.

We hope the people of Africa, among people in other parts of the world, will now be able to avoid malnourishment, hunger, and famine.

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