Hunger and war

Publish date 09-08-2022

by Paolo Lambruschi

If the expensive bills, the crazy price increases at the distributor and the inflation due to the crisis in Ukraine risk jeopardizing the economic recovery and lengthening the number of poor people lining up at Caritas, let's try to look south .

Africa is the continent that will probably be most affected by the economic crisis triggered by the conflict. Ukraine and Russia are in fact the world's largest producers and exporters of wheat and barley, two of the most important cereals for food and breeding. In addition, Russia produces a significant share of fertilizers, which it cannot export due to the economic sanctions imposed by the West. The decrease in production and exports has already caused a sharp rise in prices. About a month after the invasion began, the price of barley had already increased by 33%, that of wheat by 21% and that of numerous types of fertilizers shot up to 40%.

Today the poor of Africa, already tried by the pandemic and famine, risk being sucked into an unprecedented food crisis. In Africa, there are at least 18 low-income countries that depended on the grain of Russia and Ukraine. In these 18 countries, consumers spend an average of 40% of their income on food and rising prices risk throwing millions of people into misery.

David Beardsley, executive director of the UN's World Food Program , said that the surge in food prices, especially bread, is dangerously approaching that of 2011. It was that crisis that to trigger the rebellions and instability that led to the African spring and then to the conflict in Libya, the coup in Egypt and the conflict in Syria. All wars that have not yet been concluded even if they have disappeared from the attention of the global media. In the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia, Ukraine and Russia are very dependent on wheat and there is the risk of seeing 13 million people sinking already from starvation due to drought due to climate change. In northern Ethiopia the conflict in Tigray is ongoing, which has spread to the neighboring regions of Afar and Amara and food security is endangered, as well as by war, by the siege that causes the blockade of humanitarian aid. Here, too, there are 9 million people already at risk of hunger.

The picture contrasts with the vote last March 1st at the UN Headquarters in New York when the extraordinary assembly of the United Nations on the invasion of Russia was held. The continent was torn apart as in the days of the Cold War. In fact, only 28 out of 54 states voted on the motion condemning the Russian invasion, Eritrea voted against siding openly with Russia. The other 25, between abstentions and leaving the classroom to drink a Pilate coffee during the vote, have chosen to take sides on the line of neutrality drawn by China and India. Yet at least 18 low-income African countries received wheat from Ukraine in a percentage ranging between 40 and 100%. The fact that half of Africa has not taken a position against the war risks being counterproductive not only in terms of respect for international law. Western countries are increasingly looking to Africa as an alternative to Russian fuels. The continent is already the scene of the greatest number of conflicts, forgotten wars unleashed mainly due to the possession of the very precious resources of the subsoil such as rare earths and energy resources. In addition to hunger, new distant wars could break out, but no less bloody than the one we see every day on our screens.

Paolo Lambruschi
NP April 2022

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