Apr 14, 2022 - World

UN: War in Ukraine "supercharging" global crises

 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images

Russia's war in Ukraine is unleashing a "perfect storm" that threatens to further devastate the economies of poorer countries already facing food, energy and financial crises, the UN warned this week.

The big picture: This could throw up to 1.7 billion people into "poverty, destitution and hunger" on a scale not seen in decades," per the UN.

  • Some 69 countries — home to 1.2 billion people — are facing a "three-dimensional" crisis, including rising food and energy prices and tightening financial conditions, a UN task force said in a report released Wednesday.
  • At least 107 economies are severely exposed to at least one of these dimensions.
  • "These are countries where people struggle to afford healthy diets, where imports are essential to satisfy the food and energy needs of their populations, where debt burdens and tightening resources limit government’s ability to cope with the vagaries of global financial conditions," the report said.

Driving the news: Ukraine and Russia supply about 30% of the world's wheat and barley, one-fifth of the world's maize, and over half of its sunflower oil, per the UN.

  • 36 countries rely on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, including "some of the poorest and most vulnerable countries of the world," the UN said.
  • Russia is the world’s top natural gas exporter and second-largest oil exporter, and Russia and neighboring Belarus export around a fifth of the world’s fertilizers.

Commodity prices, which were already on the rise, are reaching record highs due in part to the war, the UN said.

  • "In an environment of already high levels of socioeconomic stress due to the impacts of COVID-19, the rise in food prices threatens knock-on effects of social unrest," the report warned.

What they're saying: "The war is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance — that is pummeling some of the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies," UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday as he launched the task force's report.

  • "And all this comes at a time when developing countries are already struggling with a slate of challenges not of their making — the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and a lack of access to adequate resources to finance the recovery in the context of persistent and growing inequalities," he added.

State of play: The UN task force recommended governments and stakeholders take immediate collective steps to address the crises, including:

  • Keeping markets open and ceasing trade restrictions and export bans "to maintain international trade in food and fertilizers and domestic and global demand."
  • Expediting renewable energy projects.
  • Taking swift action to help some of the world's most vulnerable countries avoid "another lost decade for development."

The bottom line: "Above all, this war must end," Guterres said.

"The people of Ukraine cannot bear the violence being inflicted on them. And the most vulnerable people around the globe cannot become collateral damage in yet another disaster for which they bear no responsibility."

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