Ukraine grabs aid spotlight but needy nations suffer - GulfToday

Ukraine grabs aid spotlight but needy nations suffer

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


A local resident Liubov stands next to her house destroyed during Russia’s invasion in the village of Kukhari, Kyiv region, Ukraine, on Sunday. Reuters

The war in Ukraine has not only captured the full attention of Western leaders but also gripped the world media since Russian troops crossed the frontier on February 24th. While Western politicians provide weapons for Ukraine’s defence and humanitarian aid to feed its population, the world’s media covers every development in the war, carries constant statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and conducts human interest interviews with Ukrainian victims.

This war differs from the two main regional conflicts which were the first to receive non-stop media coverage: the Bush wars on Iraq in 1991 and 2003. The Ukraine war is reported from the side of the defenders while the Bush wars were covered from the point of view of the attackers. Cameras in the noses of US warplanes provided cool green images of bombs exploding on the ground without revealing the damage or devastation inflicted. Targeted Iraqis rarely appeared in satellite television coverage although hundreds of thousands died in these two one- sided wars.

Many of the world’s people with access to satellite television coverage and newspapers follow Western channels — primarily CNN and BBC. Although Al Jazeera has made some inroads on their monopolies, it is largely following their example in terms of coverage of this war.

Western news agencies — Reuters, Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse — also dominate newspaper coverage because most countries around the world do not have the financial means to send and deploy correspondents to Ukraine. Russian sources — rather than Western correspondents based there — which could offer a different perspective, are 99 per cent absent. The exception is Sputnik radio which broadcasts in Washington, D.C., and, curiously, St. Louis, Missouri in the US. Russia Today and Sputnik television and websites have been banned by the West and cannot be accessed. There is no freedom of information or “propaganda.” In this conflict, the media is a key determinant of the course of the war as well as opinion about it.

The war has precipitated an outflow of millions of Ukrainians, disrupted global supply chains and airline services, sent soaring the prices of food, fuel and other essentials, boosted inflation, and stunted growth across the world.

While affected wealthy Western countries are adopting measures to reduce losses caused by the war, struggling Afro-Asian and Latin American nations have already suffered disproportionate repercussions.

The sudden diminution of Russian and Ukrainian grain exports, which amount to 30 per cent of the world’s supply, has created shortages and compelled Third World governments and international aid agencies to compete with rich countries for imports.

This has driven up prices of wheat, corn, barley, and oats in this region, Africa, and Asia which cannot afford rising costs of grains for human and livestock consumption. Hunger stalks the poor in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Afghanistan where bread is the essential food at every meal.

In Egypt the government has banned the export of staple foods, including wheat, flour, fava beans, rice, pasta and oil which had earned tens of millions of dollars in foreign currency revenues before the Ukraine war.

Power cuts and rising food and fuel prices have precipitated mass protests against the Sri Lankan government. The country’s Finance Ministry summed up the situation: “The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from the hostilities in Ukraine have so eroded Sri Lanka’s fiscal position that continued normal servicing obligations has become impossible.” In other words, Sri Lanka cannot afford basic imports.

Popular Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was brought down by a surge in the cost of living as well as a protracted political crisis which returned to power that country’s dynastic politicians.

Refugee populations in affected countries are bound to experience major deprivation as funds for humanitarian agencies focus on the Ukraine war while other acute, mainly chronic crises are starved of finance. The UN has called for $1.14 billion for Ukraine and has raised 64 per cent of the required amount in five weeks. The UN has urged donors to provide $5 billion - $4 billion for sustaining basic services — for Afghanistan but has received only half that amount.

The organisation has secured $2.8 billion out of $3.85 needed for Yemen.

The World Food Programme (WFP) aids another 10 countries where local populations and refugees face hunger and starvation. These countries are Nigeria, Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Haiti, Ethiopia, the contested Sahel region in North Africa, Madagascar, and Myanmar. Funds for these crises were dwindling before the war and had forced the WFP to cut rations. WFP chief David Beasley commented on this dire situation by saying that the agency was taking food from the hungry to feed the starving.

He warned in a March 21st World Economic Forum interview that if these crises are neglected, wealthy countries “could have millions upon millions of refugees heading (their) way.”

Since the crises in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria have deepened during the Ukraine war, Norwegian Refugee Council head Tor Egeland said aid agencies feel “overstretched, underfunded, overwhelmed like never before.”

UN and other humanitarian agencies, governments, charities, and individual donors have been moved to provide funds for Ukraine by the aggressive global media coverage of the war and the travails of the 4.7 million Ukrainian refugees who fled their country and 7.1 million internally displaced. However, there are another 26 million refugees and 80 million displaced persons elsewhere whose never-ending privations are not met due to donor fatigue.

Both Third and First World commentators have voiced concern over “double standards” and “racism” in the treatment of white Ukrainians when compared to providing care for others, notably brown and black people. World Health Organisation director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was particularly harsh when he demanded whether “the world really gives equal attention to black and white lives” which attract a “fraction” of the concern received by Ukraine.

These issues are especially important to him as hails from devastated Tigray which was at war with Ethiopia from November 2020 until last month. He said that since a truce was in effect, 20 rather than 2,000 lorries have delivered food and medical supplies to Tigray. “People are dying of starvation.”

While he recognised that the Ukraine war is of global importance, he stated, “I need to be blunt and honest (by saying) that the world is not treating the human race the same way. Some are more equal than others.” He “hopes the world comes back to its senses and treats all human life equally.” That may too much to expect.

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