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Russia-Ukraine war: Deadly cost to Global South

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Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA) – Sophie Mukhari sells her wares at a food market. The already high prices of food and fuel have skyrocketed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seventeen months ago, and the most vulnerable – women and children – bear the brunt of this calamity in countries around the world, the writer says.

By Brett Wilkins

A report published Monday by the international anti-poverty group ActionAid revealed that the cost of food, fuel, and fertiliser continues to increase in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities due to Russia’s ongoing 16-month invasion of Ukraine.

The survey of more than 1,000 community leaders and members from 14 countries in Africa and Asia plus Haiti conducted by the Johannesburg-based NGO found that some families are spending up to 10 times what they paid for necessities nearly 16 months ago.

This, despite the latest United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation Food Price Index — which tracks monthly changes in the price of a basket of food items in various countries — indicating a nearly 12 percent decline in global prices since February 2022, the month Russian forces invaded neighbouring Ukraine.

Community leaders in almost all of the surveyed countries also reported an increase in child marriages, a sign of growing desperation among the world’s poor.

“This pioneering research shows that since the onset of the war in Ukraine, the most vulnerable people around the world are bearing the brunt of skyrocketing food, fuel, and fertiliser prices, with women and girls the hardest hit,” ActionAid global policy analyst Alberta Guerra said in a statement. “They are disproportionally affected by multiple crises that impact their food intake, education, their right to live free from child marriage, and their mental health and well-being.”

Joy Mabenge, ActionAid’s country director for Zimbabwe — a particularly hard-hit country where reported gasoline prices skyrocketed by more than 900 percent, the cost of pasta soared by as much as 750 percent, fertiliser was 700 percent dearer, and feminine hygiene pads increased sixfold in price — said that “food and fuel prices in Zimbabwe have been increasing on a near-daily basis, hitting the country’s many families who live below the poverty line the hardest”.

“They are literally living one day at a time, not knowing where their next meal will come from.”

“In certain areas, some households cannot even afford one meal a day because the food prices have spun completely out of control, leaving many battling to keep their heads above water,” Mabenge added. “They are literally living one day at a time, not knowing where their next meal will come from.”

Some of the survey’s findings include:

  • Communities are on average now spending twice as much (101 percent more) on a loaf of bread (rising by up to 614 percent in the Binga district of Zimbabwe) and 119 percent more on pasta;
  • Average prices for fertilisers rose by 118 percent;
  • The cost of period pads soared by 83 percent on average;
  • The average cost of petrol increased by 80 percent;
  • Sugar was up by an average of 59 percent (rising by more than 800 percent in Zimbabwe’s Binga district);
  • Cooking oil was up by an average of 57 percent (rising by 224 percent in Somaliland’s Wajale district); and
  • Cooking gas was up by an average of 47 percent (rising by 216 percent in the Kwara area of Nigeria).

“Almost a year-and-a-half since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, the impact of the conflict is continuing to intensify in the world’s most vulnerable hunger hot spots,” ActionAid stated. “The price hikes are particularly alarming over a period when incomes have fallen nearly a quarter across the communities surveyed, or by 133 percent in one area of Ethiopia.”

“Almost a year-and-a-half since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, the impact of the conflict is continuing to intensify in the world’s most vulnerable hunger hotspots.”

“Children’s education prospects are also being threatened,” the group added. “Community leaders… surveyed said that the increased cost of living had led to higher school dropout rates for boys as parents struggle to afford school fees or are forced to rely on child labour to support their livelihoods, while leaders in eight… countries said the same had happened for girls.”

Roster Nkhonjera, a 40-year-old mother of five from Rumphi district in Malawi, said she had to take her children out of school due to untenable living costs.

“I have failed to pay school fees for my two children due to price hikes,” she told ActionAid. “What I earn from my small business barely covers one meal a day for my children.”

ActionAid said the news isn’t all doom and gloom.

“The survey also revealed that many communities have shown resilience in tackling the impacts of the crisis, identifying and practising sustainable coping mechanisms,” the group said. “Community members in 12 of the 14 countries surveyed said that using agroecology was helping them to make savings on crop production. Agroecology means adopting farming practices that work with nature, such as using local manure to build soil fertility and reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers.”

Guerra asserted that “social protection measures need to be urgently introduced, including free education services and free school meals, to assist the families who are most at risk”.

“In the longer term, governments dependent on food imports must also invest in national and regional food reserves to act as buffers and reduce countries’ vulnerability to food shortages and price rises,” she continued.

“The catastrophic impacts we are seeing make it clear why a just transition to renewable energy and agroecological farming practices is needed now more than ever, both to protect communities from shocks but also to offer resilience against the climate crisis,” added Guerra. “There is no time to waste.”

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published in Common Dreams