Raymond Gilpin, chief economist and head of Strategy, Research and Analysis, United Nations Development Program
Raymond Gilpin, chief economist and head of Strategy, Research and Analysis, United Nations Development Program

Africa faces an “unprecedented” crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, particularly in regard to soaring food and fuel prices, United Nations (U.N.) officials said May 6.

The conflict and Western sanctions on Moscow are disrupting wheat supplies, fertilizer and other goods, compounding difficulties that Africa already faces due to climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, the New Age World reported on May 7.

“This is an unprecedented crisis for the continent,” said Raymond Gilpin, a U.N. chief economist from Africa, during a press conference in Geneva. Gilpin, who spoke by video conference from New York, said there were risks from a widespread surge in inflation, particularly in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.

“We are seeing a reduction of GDP growth on the continent, supposed to rise slightly this year after COVID,” he said, which he said puts millions of households at risk across Africa – a continent that includes many of the world’s poorest countries. 

“Tensions, particularly in urban-area, low-income communities, could spill over and lead to violent protests and violent riots,” he said.

Countries holding elections within the next several years remain particularly vulnerable. Many African countries depend heavily on food imports and fertilizer from Russia and Ukraine — two major exporters of wheat, corn, rapeseed and sunflower oil. Rising oil prices from the war have also increased fuel and diesel costs. In some African countries, up to 80 percent of wheat came from Russia and Ukraine.

“With the disruptions now happening, we’re seeing an urgent situation materialize. Where can these countries turn overnight for commodities?” said Ahunna Eziakonwa, U.N. undersecretary-general and African regional director.

She said the crisis could also impact debt for many African countries like Ghana with high borrowing rates. 

“There needs to be an effort by multilateral, bilateral institutions to really think about restructuring debt,” she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said he has requested talks to bring back Ukrainian and Russian agriculture and fertilizer products into world markets to help end a “three-dimensional” crisis in developing nations.

The International Monetary Fund said last month the war in Ukraine had already significantly impacted the Middle East and North Africa and warned that high prices may lead to social unrest in Africa.

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