Already, the consequences of Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine have become part of our daily lives. While this conflict has unites Europe by refusing to engage in war of aggression at its borders, it also exposes European countries to consequences we are only beginning to quantify. Already, more than 3,000,000 refugees have fled the country to seek refuge in exile. Nearly 8,000,000 people will be directly affected by the humanitarian crisis in this country. Russia’s economic isolation could destabilize commodity markets which account for 60% of its exports. Record highs are already being set for fuel prices. Inflation we’ve been experiencing since 2021 will likely be exacerbated by price volatility. The presidential election was impacted by concerns about the purchasing power. The growth prospects have been revised downwards.
These are serious consequences that have already been worrying for Europe. It is a grave mistake to be too optimistic in the face conflict and to look only at the immediate future. The pandemic, from which they have not recovered, as well as the delays and failures in the global vaccination campaign have left the most vulnerable countries in Africa weaker for over two years. They will be paying the high price for the war in Ukraine.
Because war is raging around the breadbasket of this world, they are now at risk of facing a serious food crisis. Russia and Ukraine together provide 33% of all wheat worldwide and 24% of barley globally. Russia has more land for agriculture than any other European country, while Ukraine has the largest arable area in Europe. The war will cause a decline in production in the affected areas, as well as the closure of Odessa, Mariupol, and Russia’s isolation, which will severely impact exports.
Ukraine and Russia account for half of all wheat imports to Africa. For more than half their basic needs imports, twenty-three African countries rely on Russia and Ukraine. This dependency is so great that 70% of the wheat imports to Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania and Eritrea are from these two countries. These countries are currently facing an increase in international prices for agricultural products. They were at their highest level since 1970s, with wheat being bought at a rate 80% higher than it was six months ago. Corn was purchased at 58% higher in March.
To be worried about supply disruptions and shortages. As if this weren’t enough, Russia, which is third in world exports of potash, is increasing the price of fertilizers. This will result in a decrease of domestic production. Another factor that will impact the cost is the decline in sunflower oil exports from Ukraine. This country provided 46% world production. But palm oil is an essential ingredient in West Africa’s diet.
The risk of famine will rise with the conflict in Ukraine, already threatening 44 million people across the globe. It will also reduce the ability of the World Food Programme to respond to humanitarian crises. Half of the wheat it distributes from Ukraine is due to this conflict. We now face the threat of food riots, or revolts, due to the escalating cost of living. These are strong factors in political destabilization in fragile countries.
A further escalation of the debt crisis in African countries that are already heavily indebted can be feared, as was the case with the Covid epidemic. Their income will decrease and they have less room to maneuver. The risk aversion of financial markets during times of crisis could lead to increased borrowing costs. This could be detrimental for the growth of emerging and developing countries. .
The paradoxically real risk of a reduction in public aid to African countries due to this situation is very real. First, some European donors will withdraw from their own problems. The second is the fact that Ukraine, having received $1.1 billion in 2019 in development aid, will legitimately require significant investments to support its reconstruction. Lastly, taking into consideration expenditures for refugees on their territory as part of development aid expenditure could lead to a decrease in the actual effort of donors towards poor countries. This is what we saw with the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015-2016.
Vladimir Putin’s crisis has thrown not only Europe but many other countries around the globe into serious peril. It is urgent that we realize this. We cannot continue without responding to the food crisis, political instability risks, and even the resurgence the Covid-19 Pandemic within fragile countries that have been left to deal with the socio-economic consequences of this distant conflict. G7, G20 and European Union countries must take steps to counter all the effects of the war in Ukraine. This includes limiting food embargoes and allocating as fast as possible their special drawing right from the IMF to support the economic growth of low- to middle-income countries. Also, they must increase official development assistance to help alleviate the crisis.
As we did with the Covid-19 pandemic at its onset, we must also create an international mechanism for solidarity to combat food insecurity, and the famines that result from this crisis. This mechanism will allow us to fight the rise in prices and allows us to share our surplus food stock with those who are most in need.
Without a new wave in solidarity with the African countries, European influence will recede in a region that has felt excluded from the global pandemic vaccine campaign. Remember that half of those countries who did not condemn Russia at the UN General Assembly were African.
If hunger becomes a geopolitical concern, it is measured by leaders’ decisions to prevent future problems, not only their ability to respond to past events.