By David Pert:
On Wednesday, 24 August 2022, Ukraine celebrated the 31st anniversary of its independence. I have been reflecting on this and its implications for Malawi and feel a particular closeness to Ukraine and its people as I served in Kyiv as a diplomat some years ago.
It should be a time of celebration, as it is for countries around the world on their national days. But this year it is marked by tragedy, for 24 August also marked six months since Russia launched its brutal, illegal invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, a proud, internationally engaged country, and one committed to freedom and the principles of the United Nations (UN) Charter, has emerged. Ukraine has become a global exporter of grain – feeding hundreds of millions of people around the world.
But now the country and all it has achieved is under threat. Over the last six months, the scale of atrocities against Ukraine’s citizens is certain, with extensive violations of international human rights law.
Officially there have been 12,800 civilian casualties so far, with the expectation that real figures are considerably higher. At least 366 healthcare centres have been attacked, and over 2,200 schools. More than 12.8 million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes – displaced – with 6.2 million people now living as refugees.
The UK and many others, including Malawi, have stood by Ukraine in its darkest hour. We are committed to championing fundamental human rights, sovereignty, international humanitarian law and democratic values internationally, to help build a fairer, freer world.
The war in Ukraine has a huge global impact, affecting the most vulnerable people living in the world’s poorest countries.
Since the beginning of the year, we have seen a rise in the cost of living around the world, including in Malawi where inflation is at 23.5 percent.
Global food insecurity and the risk of famine is at an all-time high, driven by conflict, climate change and the Covid pandemic. At present, at least 1.6 billion people worldwide are directly affected by the surge in food and energy prices.
In East Africa, millions of people are faced with the worst drought and food shortages in decades. Four consecutive rain seasons failed them. Harvests failed. Livestock are dying, and the price of staple food at the local markets keeps rising.
Ukraine’s grain exports collapsed after the invasion, which has exacerbated food insecurity around the world. African countries import more than 12 percent of their wheat from Ukraine and in recent years Malawi has been importing nearly two-thirds of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.
The war is also affecting the fertiliser trade. The African Development Bank estimates that, due to the conflict, Africa faces a fertiliser shortfall of four million metric tonnes this year – 33-40 percent of supply in 2020.
Without a sufficient supply of fertiliser, Africa could lose $14-19 billion – one-fifth – worth of food production in the next two harvesting seasons, with significant knock-on consequences to food availability.
In Malawi, this is beginning to push fertiliser prices even further beyond the reach of many ordinary farmers, putting Malawi’s food situation at severe risk. Many crop prices have already increased sharply this year such as sunflower (up 51 percent), wheat (up 36 percent), and maize (up 23.3 percent).
Recognising the global food crisis, the UK and our partners have deliberately not sanctioned food or fertiliser exports from Russia to other countries.
The UN-brokered deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports across the Black Sea is a vital step, for which the UK has pushed, and news of a shipment by our UK aid partner the World Food Programme transporting grain from Ukraine to the drought-hit Horn of Africa region is a positive sign of progress.
However, to enable a lasting return to global security and economic stability, there must be peace. No country deserves a war. But in wartime, there are rules: there is international law and there is the commitment we made to uphold this through the UN Charter.
The world needs a free and safe Ukraine so it can securely return to supplying the world with its food.
Our commitment to a better world, one that is fairer and strives for freedom for all – especially in the aftermath of the pandemic – is a challenge that we all must face together.
Ukraine is our friend in this global effort to build back better, and it is our partner in food security. As we commemorate Ukraine’s anniversary of independence, Ukraine and the UK stand together, both supporting Ukraine to help protect its people, but also around the world in partnership with those nations who share these same goals.
Viva Independent Ukraine!