More than a quarter of a billion people around the world could be plunged into extreme poverty this year amid rising global food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, continued Covid exposure and growing global inequality, Oxfam warned.
Stressing the impact of the war on the world’s poorest people, the charity said two decades of progress were in jeopardy as the conflict raised wholesale prices, disrupted crops and hampered exports of vital goods.
He warned that a total of 263 million people – equivalent to the populations of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain combined – could be pushed into extreme poverty this year.
Ahead of key international meetings next week by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Oxfam said that by the end of the year, some 860 million people could be living in extreme poverty – living on less than $ 1.90 (£ 1). , 46) per day.
The UN said last week that world food prices had reached a new all-time high amid the effects of the war in Europe, and warned that rising prices would hit the poorest hardest.
The conflict has led to rising prices for wheat, corn and vegetable oils. Russia ranks as the world’s largest exporter of wheat, while Ukraine – known as Europe’s granary – ranks fifth. Together, the countries supply more than a quarter of world exports, with buyers typically concentrated in poor regions such as the Middle East and North Africa.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which monitors world prices, said the war had contributed to a 17% rise in grain prices in the last month alone, with port closures affecting wheat and corn exports to the Black Sea. Russian exports are also slowed by financial and transport problems.
Oxfam said rising food costs account for 17% of consumer spending in rich countries, but as much as 40% in sub-Saharan Africa. The impact will also be felt in richer economies, including the United States, where the poorest fifth of families spend 27% of their income on food, compared to only 7% for the richest fifth.
A report entitled First Crisis, Then Catastrophe, says a wave of governments in low-income countries are close to defaulting and may be forced to cut public spending on paying creditors and importing food and fuel. He found that the world’s poorest countries have to pay off $ 43 billion in debt this year, which could otherwise cover the cost of their food imports.
Oxfam said debt payments to developing countries could be scrapped to help those most in need, while the annual wealth tax on millionaires and billionaires could accumulate more than $ 2.5 trillion a year. The proceeds can be used to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, create enough vaccines for the world and provide universal health and social protection for all living in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Katie Chakraborty, head of advocacy at Oxfam, said a “Herculean response” was needed to deal with the catastrophe facing Covid humanity and the impact of rising inflation fueled by the war in Ukraine.
“Many global crises are causing misery to millions of people, and simply shifting aid to every crisis is not enough; low-income countries need debt cancellation to be able to invest in social safety nets, and progressive taxation of the richest is needed now more than ever to provide huge means to protect the most vulnerable.
“In addition to the shocking figures of extreme poverty, millions of people are already experiencing severe levels of hunger in East and West Africa, Yemen and Syria.