Opinion | No Matter the Outcome in the Ukraine War, the World’s Poorest Will Feel Its Impact the Most

At the very least leaders would be wise to immediately de-alert nuclear systems and make further moves towards a nuclear-free world through the expansion of the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It came into force only 14 months ago but already has 83 states signed up.

Beyond the military repercussions, the Ukraine war will add a big load to much of the Global South, already struggling with the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study by the UN’s main agency working on trade and development, UNCTAD, has expressed concern over “the two fundamental ‘Fs’ of commodity markets: food and fuels”, with Ukraine and Russia being global players. Russia’s huge role in the global energy market is well known and together the two countries account for 27% of all trade in wheat and 53% of trade in sunflower oil, widely used across the Global South in cooking.

The war will lead to higher inflation worldwide but the poorest people will feel it most, whether in the Global North or Global South.

UNCTAD further reports: “As many as 25 African countries, including many least developed countries, import more than one third of their wheat from the two countries, and 15 of them import over half.” According to the UNCTAD secretary-general, Rebeca Grynspan: “Soaring food and fuel prices will affect the most vulnerable in developing countries, putting pressure on the poorest households which spend the highest share of their income on food, resulting in hardship and hunger.”

Further complications will ensue if the war disrupts rail freight between China and Europe. That will force more goods onto ships traveling already crowded sea routes, leading to further delays in supply chains, while fuel costs will add even more to international inflationary pressures.

The war will lead to higher inflation worldwide but the poorest people will feel it most, whether in the Global North or Global South—hurts that are scarcely considered when looking at the impact of the war.

All this comes against the background of the wider issues of potential climate breakdown and a neoliberal economic system: as Mary Kaldor, professor of global governance at the London School of Economics, argues, market fundamentalism did so much to aid the rise of Putin.

Rising above these global challenges was a huge task before the war and is now made more difficult by its consequences. That is no excuse not to work for a more peaceful world, even if the accumulation of problems may seem so daunting. No one can take it all on, but individual roles are vital. Moreover, the work can be made easier if this wider picture is recognised, a clear role for the likes of open Democracy.

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