Russia's war on Ukraine threatens to devastate the economies of many developing countries that are now facing even higher food and energy costs and increasingly difficult financial conditions, a UN task force has warned.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released the report on April 13, saying that the war was "supercharging" a crisis in food, energy, and finance in poorer countries that were already struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and a lack of access to adequate funding for economic recovery.
"We are now facing a perfect storm that threatens to devastate the economies of many developing countries," Guterres told reporters.
"As many as 1.7 billion people -- one-third of whom are already living in poverty -- are now highly exposed to disruptions in food, energy. and finance systems that are triggering increases in poverty and hunger."
Guterres also cited the fact that 36 countries import more than half of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
Rising food and energy prices, coming on top of the crushing debts of many poor countries, could lead to social and political instability, Guterres added.
He called for an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, the lifting of export restrictions, investment in renewable energies, and financial support for developing countries.
Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of the UN agency promoting trade and development who coordinated the task force, said those people live in 107 countries that have "severe exposure" to at least one dimension of the crisis -- rising food prices, increasing energy price, or tightening financial conditions.
The report says 69 of the countries, with a population of 1.2 billion people, face a "perfect storm" and are severely or significantly exposed to all three crises. They include 25 countries in Africa, 25 in Asia and the Pacific, and 19 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Russia is also the world's top natural-gas exporter and second-largest oil exporter, and Russia and neighboring Belarus export about 20 percent of the world’s fertilizers.
Guterres said oil prices had increased by more than 60 percent over the past year, gas prices had jumped 50 percent in recent months, and fertilizer prices had doubled.
The task force calls on countries to ensure a steady flow of food and fertilizer through open markets, lift export restrictions, and direct surpluses and reserves to those in need. Guterres said this would help keep a lid on food prices and calm volatility in food markets.
On energy, the task force urged governments to refrain from hoarding, immediately release strategic petroleum stockpiles and additional reserves, and reduce the use of wheat for biofuels.
Guterres urged countries to use the crisis as an opportunity to accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
On finance, the task force issued "an urgent call for prompt and swift action from the international community" to help developing countries avoid another decade of lost economic development, "a generalized debt crisis, and social and political instability."