Global Human Rights Defence

The Costs of War: How the Russo-Ukrainian War is Affecting Billions of People’s Rights.

The Costs of War: How the Russo-Ukrainian War is Affecting Billions of People’s Rights.
Protests in London against the rising cost of living and increasing inequality and poverty. By Alisdare Hickson via Flickr, April 2022.

Author: Laura Libertini

Department: Europe Team

Introduction

The outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February 2022 has unleashed an unprecedented war within European borders, where its ripple effects are causing great human suffering and violations of fundamental human rights. The conflict has shaped – and has exacerbated – a global crisis of living costs, unknown in at least a generation, starting from food prices, commodities prices, the prices of energy, and fertilizers. The current breakdown is severely jeopardizing the living conditions and the livelihoods of billions of people around the globe, undermining any aspirations for a better and healthier future by 2030 (United Nations, 2022). Meanwhile, the world economy has been taking the hits of two years of COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2022, 60 percent of workers have   incomes compared to those before the pandemic. 60 percent of the poorest countries are risking indebtedness or are already suffering from debt distress; developing countries lack $1.2 trillion per year to meet the social protection gap, while $4.3 trillion is needed per year – more capital than ever before – to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (United Nations, 2022).

 

The food crisis

The war is causing a severe rise in food prices, an increase in the cost of energy and a constriction of financial conditions. Russia and Ukraine – alongside the U.S., Canada, and Australia – are the world’s top exporters of wheat. The two countries were considered to be the “breadbaskets of Europe”, accounting for 30 percent of the worldwide grain exports before the outbreak of the conflict. In the last few years, their production has increased, with Russia becoming the principal exporter and with Ukraine covering the third place. While grain prices started to increase before the Russian invasion, wheat prices streamed even higher after Russian troops marched into Ukraine, exceeding 400 euros ($418) per tonne on the European Market in May, doubling its levels compared to the summer of 2021 (Agence France-Presse, 2022). Because of the increasing prices of wheat and corn alone, the average household has lost 1.5 percent in real income. Worldwide, more people have been encountering famine-like conditions, while more and more people have faced severe hunger crises (United Nations, 2022). As of June 2022, the World Food Programme estimated that in just two years, the number of people suffering from food insecurity doubled from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million at the beginning of 2022. The repercussions of the invasion of Ukraine are expected to bring this number up to 323 million by the end of 2022 (United Nations, 2022). It cannot be denied that the war in Ukraine is affecting the wealth and fundamental rights of people across the globe, a crisis that is unknown to this generation. Families are cutting health visits and cooking fuel, moderating food purchases and may be diminishing the number of nourishing articles, for instance by skipping meals or eating smaller portions (United Nations, 2022).

 In Europe, this situation has been further exacerbated by the intensifying heatwaves and drought affecting numerous European and urban regions. Agronomist and resilience adviser at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Sylvie Wabbes, claimed that an increasingly unstable climate results in difficult farming conditions, forcing farmers to adopt measures that are usually taken in low-income countries exposed to severe climate change events. She continued by stating that “We have seen big change in weather patterns – it rains less, it is less predictable when the rain will come and when it does rain it is often sudden and heavy causing soil erosion” (Nuttall, 2022). As the new report on the global impacts of the war in Ukraine by the UN states “Food should never be a luxury; it is a fundamental human right. And yet, this crisis may rapidly turn into a food catastrophe of global proportions” (United Nations, 2022).

 

The energy crisis

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing severe trade and production disruptions. The World Bank has forecasted a 50 percent rise in energy prices in 2022. According to the World Bank, the price of Brent crude oil is expected to reach an average of 100 US Dollars a barrel this year; Reaching its peak since 2013 and resulting in an increase of more than 40 percent compared with 2021 levels. Energy prices are not expected to fall before 2023. A decrease to 92 US Dollars per barrel is estimated. This number is still above the five-year average of 60 US Dollars per barrel (Elliott, 2022). Compared to 2020 levels, the price of European natural gas has increased ten-fold, forcing large natural gas importers to drastically reduce their dependence on Russian natural gas. Higher energy prices, particularly diesel and natural gas, made the costs of fertilizers and transport surge. These aspects increase the prices of food production, leading to the reduction of farm harvests and even higher food prices in the following season. In turn, inflation metrics vary, contributing to already-rising interest rate pressures and tautening financial conditions (United Nations, 2022).

 

Conclusion

The Russo-Ukrainian war has generated a vicious cycle leading to a series of long-lasting and dangerous consequences. The cost of living crisis can easily spark social and political instability, especially in countries where the consequences of the war are felt the most. In general, the food and energy crisis is reducing the real income of families, seriously jeopardising their opportunities and their hopes for a better and sustainable future (United Nations, 2022). Families are forced to make painful compromises: reducing meals and the quality of food, withdrawing from schools or reducing medical expenses. These decisions usually affect women and young girls the most. These choices have worrying long-standing influences, starting from higher levels of poverty, to rising gender inequality, creating situations where access to education is considered a privilege. In contrast, lower productivity and declines in real salaries start to become the standard (United Nations, 2022).

The world population was left in an extremely fragile state, after two years of intense struggle due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis that followed while the violent impacts of climate change are becoming dreadfully frequent. Therefore, it is clear that the Russo-Ukraine war came in an extremely stressful period, further eroding the capacity of people and governments to cope with a crisis. “A shock of this magnitude would have been a significant challenge no matter the timing; now, it is of historic, century-defining proportions” (United Nations, 2022).

 

Sources:

Agence France-Presse. (2022, July 5). Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupts global wheat market, raises hunger fears. Firstpost. Retrieved on 7 July 2022 from https://www.firstpost.com/world/russias-invasion-of-ukraine-disrupts-global-wheat-market-raises-hunger-fears-10871451.html

Elliott, L. (2022, April 26). Ukraine war “will mean high food and energy prices for three years.” The Guardian. Retrieved on 7 July 2022 from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/apr/26/ukraine-war-food-energy-prices-world-bank

Nuttall, P. (2022, June 21). Drought pulls Europe’s farmers to the front line of a drying world. The New Statesman. Retrieved on 7 July 2022 from https://www.newstatesman.com/environment/food-farming/2022/06/world-drought-europes-farmers-heatwaves-climate

United Nations. (2022, June 8). Global impact of the war in Ukraine: Billions of people face the greatest cost-of-living crisis in a generation (Brief N. 2). United Nations. Retrieved from https://www.unep.org/resources/publication/global-impact-war-ukraine-billions-people-face-greatest-cost-living-crisis

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