"If the international community wants to mitigate the war’s consequences for people living in states facing crises, it must not reduce its support despite the increased costs caused by the war in Ukraine.” (Viktoria Budde)
Currently, not a day goes by without media coverage of the war in Ukraine: The suffering of the people fleeing to neighbouring countries and the extent of violence at the centre of Europe are horrifying. We should, however, also look at the war’s impact beyond its immediate neighbourhood. UN Secretary General Guterres fears that the world may forget crises like those in Yemen, Syria, or Lebanon because of the Ukraine war. Yet, the conflict is currently even aggravating the situation within states that were already in crisis before the war started.
Since 2019, Lebanon, for example, has been hit by one of the three toughest economic crises the world has witnessed since the 1950s: Due to an inflation rate of 90 per cent, the minimum wage fixed at the former equivalent of 410 euros is now worth only 25 euros. Prices continue to rise and so this year, Beirut, Lebanon's capital, shot from 45th place in 2020 to a dizzying third place among the world's most expensive cities. As a result, many people can no longer afford basic foodstuffs and about 3.2 million people need support in the form of food, water, and shelter. Even in 2021, before the Ukraine war, there was a funding gap of 1.1 billion euros for UN assistance in Lebanon and only 1/3 of funds necessary for food aid were available.
Lebanon's ability to feed its population has been further limited since the 2020 port explosion. The largest non-nuclear explosion in history also destroyed its granaries, 80% of which were filled with flour from Russia and Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is driving up prices worldwide: Lebanon, practically bankrupt, cannot participate in the bidding wars. Flour is heavily rationed, but bread prices still increased sixfold. The remaining flour will last for maximum one month. How the population will be fed then remains unclear.
Electricity, on the other hand, is available for two hours a day only, the rest has to be produced expensively and inefficiently through generators. As a result, cities remain dark at night, supermarkets are left unrefrigerated, hospitals operate on emergency power. Petrol needed to commute to work is more expensive than what wages earn, public transportation is non-existent. Due to the war, energy prices are rising worldwide, and, in trying to avoid Russian gas, many countries are now looking elsewhere for their energy needs. Lebanon is losing out to countries offering higher prices, and a deal with Egypt that would have provided the gas to generate an additional 450 megawatts of electricity is also on hold because of the war. Since the respective gas would flow through Syria, the Syrian regime would receive valuable gas as payment for the use of its infrastructure. The Russian company Stroytransgaz would also benefit in addition to the sanctioned Assad regime. The head of Stroytransgaz is now sanctioned by the US, the EU, and the UK because of his close ties to Putin. Putin in turn receives financial compensation for the support he provides to Assad through Stroytransgaz. So, 22 hours of power cuts a day in Lebanon will not be remedied any time soon. This is likely to negatively impact the elections scheduled for May and result in further public unrest.
The example of Lebanon shows what consequences states that were already hit by crises before the war may face. The immediate supply with fundamental goods is affected, but also entire conflicts may flare up again. If the international community wants to mitigate the war’s effects on people living in states facing crises, it must not reduce its support despite the increased costs caused by the war in Ukraine. Short-term aid cannot combat crises’ root causes and ultimately only long-term reforms can address structural reasons for poor pre-war conditions. But against the backdrop of the crises exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict, these long-term reforms will probably have to be put on the backburner.