The Losers of the Ukraine War? The Global PoorRoundup
tags: poverty, Ukraine
Rajan Menon, a TomDispatch regular, is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations emeritus at the Powell School, City College of New York, director of the Grand Strategy Program at Defense Priorities, and Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace at Columbia University. He is the author, most recently, of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.
In 1919, the renowned British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace, a book that would prove controversial indeed. In it, he warned that the draconian terms imposed on defeated Germany after what was then known as the Great War — which we now call World War I — would have ruinous consequences not just for that country but all of Europe. Today, I’ve adapted his title to explore the economic consequences of the (less than great) war now underway — the one in Ukraine, of course — not just for those directly involved but for the rest of the world.
Not surprisingly, following Russia’s February 24th invasion, coverage has focused mainly on the day-to-day fighting; the destruction of Ukrainian economic assets, ranging from buildings and bridges to factories and whole cities; the plight of both Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced people, or IDPs; and the mounting evidence of atrocities. The war’s potential long-term economic effects in and beyond Ukraine haven’t attracted nearly as much attention, for understandable reasons. They’re less visceral and, by definition, less immediate. Yet the war will take a huge economic toll, not just on Ukraine but on desperately poor people living thousands of miles away. Wealthier countries will experience the ill effects of the war, too, but be better able to cope with them.
Some expect this war to last years, even decades, though that estimate seems far too bleak. What we do know, however, is that, even two months in, Ukraine’s economic losses and the outside assistance that country will need ever to achieve anything resembling what once passed for normal are staggering.
Let’s start with Ukraine’s refugees and IDPs. Together, the two groups already make up 29% of the country’s total population. To put that in perspective, try to imagine 97 million Americans finding themselves in such a predicament in the next two months.
As of late April, 5.4 million Ukrainians had fled the country for Poland and other neighboring lands. Even though many — estimates vary between several hundred thousand and a million — have started returning, it’s unclear whether they will be able to stay (which is why the U.N.’s figures exclude them from its estimate of the total number of refugees). If the war worsens and does indeed last years, a continuing exodus of refugees could result in a total unimaginable today.
That will put even more strain on the countries hosting them, especially Poland, which has already admitted nearly three million fleeing Ukrainians. One estimate of what it costs to provide them with basic needs is $30 billion. And that’s for a single year. Moreover, when that projection was made there were a million fewer refugees than there are now. Add to that the 7.7 million Ukrainians who have left their homes but not the country itself. The cost of making all these lives whole again will be staggering.
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