By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that the current devastating war in Ukraine has an equally destructive impact on the outside world: an assault on the world’s most vulnerable people and countries.
The worst affected are the world’s poor as food, fuel and fertilizer prices are skyrocketing while one of the world’s major bread baskets, Ukraine, is being bombed—a country which alone provided more than half of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) wheat supply.
The conflict in Ukraine is also undermining development aid provided by Western nations to some of the world’s poorest nations.
In a report released March 18, the London-based humanitarian organization Oxfam said the global repercussions of the Ukraine crisis―already being felt in fast-rising food, commodity and energy prices―could undermine official aid efforts to help people in other humanitarian hot-spots.
Oxfam is concerned that some donor governments are already shifting aid budgets to pay for Ukrainian assistance and the costs of hosting more than 3 million people who have fled the war-torn country recently.
Others Western donors are holding back funding approvals for other crises, said Oxfam, while it urges donors to meet Ukraine’s needs with new funding, particularly Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Oxfam says it is aware that the European Union (EU) has more than halved its humanitarian funding to Timor-Leste, and that some donors have indicated they will cut their ODA to Burkina Faso by 70 percent, with other West African countries being warned in advance.
Meanwhile, German donors have indicated they cannot decide on pending funding proposals until decisions on Ukraine have been taken, which risks humanitarian assistance in other parts of the world, said Oxfam.
The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines ODA as government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries.
The DAC adopted ODA as the “gold standard” of foreign aid in 1969 and it remains the main source of financing for development aid but it also remains in jeopardy primarily because of the crisis in Ukraine and its fallout.
A long-standing United Nations target is that developed countries should devote 0.7% of their gross national income to ODA.
According to Oxfam, Nordic donors have pledged €300 million for Ukraine―most of it by Norway― but if Norway’s contribution is not made additional this will claim almost 40 percent of Norway’s combined humanitarian aid budget and force deep cuts elsewhere.
Sweden has allocated new funds but there are fears that its aid budget could be “adjusted” ahead rather than additional resources being found.
Oxfam also said that Denmark has confirmed that its support will come out of its existing aid budget with its Minister for Development warning of “some tough choices and re-prioritization”―likely delaying or cancelling programs in other crisis responses.
Still, “amid the generous public outpouring of support in Europe and beyond”, Oxfam applauds Spain, the Netherlands and France for new funding to support refugees from Ukraine and is calling on them to publicly confirm these funds will be additional to their other humanitarian budget lines.
Italy has said it will refund the €110 million allocated from its existing aid budget for refugees from Ukraine, but no official commitment has yet been made.
The UK government has matched a public appeal with £25m ―its largest ever donation― and opened a scheme to reimburse families who volunteer to house Ukrainian refugees.
According to Oxfam, Europe has a spotted track record. In 2015 ―when half as many refugees made their way to Europe from Syria and beyond― donor countries responded by counting on average 11 percent ($15.4 billion) of their aid commitments to pay to support them.
“We must avoid a repeat where some rich countries end up effectively spending their aid budgets domestically,” said Head of Oxfam’s EU Office, Evelien Van Roemburg.
She said only 3 percent of funds have so far been given to the UN’s $6 billion appeal to relieve widespread hunger happening now in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.
“The people of Yemen and Syria, all those millions now facing desperate hunger across East and West Africa, those still in camps in Bangladesh and beyond, those hit hardest by COVID and climate change―they must not be penalized and left paying the price of our duty of care toward the people of Ukraine”.
“We get it that governments’ aid budgets are finite and they need to make tough choices, but rather than cutting life-lines to other crises, we need to get creative. Every day now we hear of super-yachts and mansions being seized. Every day, billionaires of all nationalities are growing obscenely from speculation, tax dodging and skyrocketing corporate profits and share prices”.
“After rightfully spending trillions to save their economies from the impacts of COVID-19, we reject any assertion that helping a refugee from Ukraine or a hungry Somalian farmer is a choice,” Van Roemburg said.
“Well done to those donors doing the right thing. Let’s help and support all people in need by those who can afford it, as we redouble efforts to stop conflict and climate change and rebuild a global food system,” she said.
Asked about the shortfall in wheat supplies from Ukraine, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters March 17 WFP gets about 50% of its wheat supplies from Ukraine.
WFP, he pointed out, buys on the open market. “The problem is that the commodities prices are going up all over the place. And so, I think it’s adding, if I’m not mistaken, about $71 million a month to their monthly purchase bill.”
Meanwhile, Guterres said last week that Russia and Ukraine represent more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and about 30 percent of the world’s wheat.
He said grain prices have already exceeded those at the start of the Arab Spring and the food riots of 2007-2008. The FAO’s global food prices index is at its highest level ever.
Forty-five African and least developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine [or] Russia – 18 of those countries import at least 50 percent.
This includes countries like Burkina Faso, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 March 2022]
Photo: A group of school children walk hand in hand after school in rural Nepal. © World Bank/Aisha Faquir
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