Businesses responded to war in Ukraine by providing unprecedented support to people fleeing, but war is increasing food and energy prices, pushing families to the brink of survival elsewhere. Businesses must protect communities in their supply chains by preparing them to respond to disaster. In today’s globalised economy, this can benefit us all.
For several months we have witnessed horrifying scenes from Ukraine, playing out daily in news and social media. From entire communities shelled to rubble in Mariupol, to millions of refugees searching for safety, the stories are shocking and stirring.
Businesses responded by providing unprecedented support to people fleeing the country. Yet, the war is impacting far beyond Ukraine’s borders.
The conflict is disrupting cereal planting and exports and increasing chemical fertiliser costs. Global food prices - already at record highs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate disasters, commodity speculation, and rising energy costs – are skyrocketing. Half of grains distributed by the World Food Programme come from Ukraine and Russia, who produce over a quarter of global wheat exports.
As a result, global food security is being severely impacted. The pain inflicted on countries like the UK is severe. But insecurity hits people already experiencing humanitarian crisis much harder.
In the Horn of Africa, many people are on the brink of survival. The region is experiencing one of its worst ever droughts. Up to 14 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia face severe hunger and water shortages. The March-May rains have failed, making it the first time in 40 years that there have been four consecutive below-normal seasons. Somaliland (a semi-autonomous region in Somalia)hasn’t had rain since April 2021.
It is hitting vulnerable people hardest. Amina Ibrahim Ege, 80, from rural Gabiley District in Somaliland, told us the price of 25kg of rice rose from $20 to around $30 over in 1 month - while petrol soared from $12 to around $30 for five litres, a 150% increase. Amina Yusuf Cige, 90, in the village of Xidhinta, has survived 12 droughts but says this is the worst she’s experienced: “We have no water. Fuel is very expensive. We used to eat sorghum, rice, pasta, and macaroni. But now we do not have the money to buy these foods. We are starving.”
In all humanitarian crises, women and girls tend to be worse effected. We’ve seen reports of trafficking and increasing gender-based violence faced by refugees fleeing violence in both the Horn of Africa and Ukraine. ActionAid is responding but the situation is severe.
Hibo Aden, women’s rights officer at ActionAid Somaliland, said the situation is so desperate for some families that girls are forced to marry in exchange for food and water. “Last month, the government did an assessment about how the drought affected women and children,” she said. “They found that cases of gender-based violence had increased by 24%, notably in domestic violence, forced marriage and girls dropping out of education.”
Whilst these issues can feel remote to businesses, in today’s globalised markets - which have been so beneficial for businesses - war in Ukraine means further disaster elsewhere. Multiple disasters, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, and food crises in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, have a compounding negative affect. They reduce supply chain resilience and food security, increase human rights risks, and reduce consumer spending power. Global disasters impact the bottom line.
Businesses can address this. Companies can integrate humanitarian response and disaster risk reduction into sustainability strategies that go far beyond meeting minimum legal requirements. Concrete actions include investing in suppliers' resilience by financing disaster resilience initiatives in supply-critical contexts, enabling communities to respond and more quickly recover from disaster.
But business can’t do this alone. ActionAid works at multiple levels to deliver disaster preparedness and response around the world. We have expertise in increasing resilience, for instance through improving food security and developing community-led contingency plans. We also created an Emergencies Action Fund so that we can quickly respond when disaster strikes. We provide immediate relief and enable women to lead community responses. By sharing resources and expertise, we can increase the resilience of communities and supply chains, whilst reducing impacts of disaster.
If you are interested in building on your response to Ukraine or considering resilience and human rights in your business’s supply chains, reach out to ActionAid to discuss strategic opportunities. Together we can tackle the complex emergencies that affect us all.