For the people of Ukraine, the Russian invasion is a waking nightmare and a humanitarian disaster on a terrifying scale. But the war is also fast becoming a matter of life and death for vulnerable people around the world.
We have all seen the tragedy unfolding inside Ukraine: cities flattened; people suffering and dying in their homes and in the streets; the fastest displacement crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
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But away from Ukraine’s borders, far beyond the media spotlight, the war has launched a silent assault on the developing world. This crisis could throw up to 1.7 billion people – more than a fifth of humanity – into poverty, destitution and hunger on a scale not seen in decades.
Ukraine and the Russian Federation provide 30 per cent of the world’s wheat and barley, a fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil. Together, their grain feeds the poorest and most vulnerable people, providing more than a third of the wheat imported by 45 African and other least-developed countries. At the same time, Russia is the world’s top exporter of natural gas, and its second-largest oil exporter.
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The war is preventing farmers from tending their crops, while closing ports, ending grain exports, disrupting supply chains and sending prices rocketing. Many developing countries are still struggling to recover from the effects of the Covid pandemic, coupled with historic debt burdens and soaring inflation.
Since the start of 2022, wheat and maize prices have increased by 30 per cent. Brent oil prices have risen more than 60 per cent over the last year, while natural gas and fertiliser prices have more than doubled.
The United Nations’ own lifesaving operations are under severe strain. The World Food Programme has warned that it faces the impossible choice of taking from the hungry to feed the starving. It urgently needs $8bn to support its operations in Yemen, Chad and Niger.
Some countries are already sliding from vulnerability into crisis, which brings with it serious social unrest. And we know that the roots of many conflicts lie in poverty, inequality, underdevelopment and hopelessness.
But while much of the world has stepped up in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, there is no sign of the same support for the 1.7 billion other potential victims of this war.
We have a clear moral duty to support them, everywhere.
Photo Credit: Getty