By Lydia O’Kane, Dublin
“Global food prices are reaching unprecedented levels.” “Consumers face degrading energy.” These are just some of the headlines people have read over the past two months, highlighting the dramatic rise in the cost of living.
According to the United Nations, world food prices hit their highest level ever in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
These included commodity prices including cooking oils, dairy, meat and grains.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations noted: “Higher price quotations are of particular concern for countries already grappling with other crises, including conflict, natural disasters, economic conditions or, as is often the case, certain combinations thereof”.
Addressing the current situation, the head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) expressed concern about the impact the crisis in Ukraine could have on global food security.
IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo said: “Forty percent of Ukraine’s wheat and maize exports go to the Middle East and Africa, which are already struggling with hunger issues. , and where further food shortages or price hikes could fuel social unrest.
As rising costs weigh on finances, in some cases families have to choose between heating their homes and heating essentials.
Factors impacting consumers
Father Seàn Healy, SMA, is chief executive of the independent think tank Social Justice Ireland.
Speaking to Vatican Radio, he said factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic, an ongoing climate crisis and now the geo-economic crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have revealed “an economic system very fossil fuel based which remains fundamentally unsustainable”. .”
This system is now having a ripple effect on the lives of millions of people as they struggle to pay their bills and feed their families. “Ordinary people are suffering because the cost of food has gone up, the cost of housing has gone up, the cost of fuel for their cars has gone up…And their salaries haven’t kept pace,” the father said. Healy.
The poorest are the most affected
According to figures from the European statistics agency, Eurostat, more than 75 million people across Europe are officially registered as living in poverty. The chief executive of Social Justice Ireland pointed out that 20 million of them are children.
“What you’re seeing is a situation where people didn’t have a lot of leeway before the current crisis hit and before the cost of living started to rise. They were already living in poverty or else they were living on the edge of poverty,” he said.
Father Healy explained that you now have a situation where the pattern that has been followed for some time is broken, and the social contract “between the citizen and the state is also broken”.
This means that the state cannot provide the services that the citizen expects as part of the social contract.
What is needed, Fr Healy said, is a new social contract and “fundamentally we need to rethink how to organize ourselves in this context”.
Help those in need
Asked what governments can do to alleviate the challenges facing the most vulnerable, he said governments must ensure that their priority is that “those on the margins are protected from the current series of crises facing the society generally faces.
With the cost of living rising sharply, Fr Healy said he doesn’t see that increase changing any time soon.
“I think we are in a situation, especially given the situation between Ukraine and Russia, and it has a huge impact both on fuel and because the Russians provide a lot of gas and oil that the world needs. But also because Russia and Ukraine were huge exporters of food.
The climate issue
He also said he faces huge challenges to deal with the climate situation due to the colossal effort needed to reduce CO2 emissions.
“Our planet is in grave danger and this was very clearly affirmed by Pope Francis in his wonderful encyclical on the environment”.
Fr Healy went on to say that “what needs to be done is perfectly clear to anyone looking at the situation, and yet many governments are not doing it”. The pledges, he added, “are not on the scale of what is needed to reverse the process that is currently taking place in environmental destruction.”