In this episode of The Development Podcast, we mark one year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and explore the depth and breadth of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) around the world. What are the spillover effects of war as we see increased displacement of populations, high energy and food prices, shocks to natural disasters and more? And what is the World Bank Group’s position and long-term strategy on FCV, and how can we begin to tackle some of these challenges we face head on?
Axel Van Trotsenburg, the World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations, the Honorable John Dabi, Deputy Commissioner of South Sudan Commission for Refugees Affairs, Fidel Saad, Save the Children Lebanon’s Food Security, Livelihoods and Social Protection Technical Advisor, and Lara, a Ukrainian refugee living in Oxford, talk to us on these issues and more.
Tell us what you think of our podcast here >>>. We would love to hear from you!
- Axel Van Trotsenburg, the World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations.
- Honorable John Dabi, Deputy Commissioner of South Sudan Commission for Refugees Affairs.
- Fidel Saad, Save the Children Lebanon’s Food Security, Livelihoods and Social Protection Technical Advisor.
- Lara, a Ukrainian refugee living in Oxford.
[00:00] Raka Banerjee: Hello, and welcome to The Development Podcast from The World Bank Group, coming to you from Washington D.C. and beyond. I'm Raka Banerjee.
Srimathi Sridhar: And I'm Srimathi Sridhar. In this episode, violence, conflict and fragility, why so much of the world is struggling with these crises and why the impact of war is not confined by borders.
Axel Van Trotsenburg: The human suffering that we are seeing in many FCV countries are calling out for solidarity.
Raka Banerjee: It's been a year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So how does it feel to be a refugee parted from your family, not knowing when it might be safe to return?
Lara: We didn't know where to move. We knew only that I take my kid, I take my 70-year-old mom and we're crossing the border. Where? We didn't know where.
Srimathi Sridhar: We also hear from both Lebanon and South Sudan.
Honorable John Dabi: Think of peace because peace is the only way out.
Raka Banerjee: Our fractured world and how the World Bank Group is responding.
[01:20] Srimathi Sridhar: That's all coming up in The Development Podcast. Raka, could you tell us a little more about why the World Bank and other humanitarian organizations have become increasingly concerned about fragility, conflict and violence?
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, of course. So fragility, conflict and violence, which we call FCV for short in the World Bank, it's really a growing issue and a major concern these days because people living in fragile and conflict affected settings represent 10% of the global population, but 45% of the extreme poor. The brutal reality is that violent conflict has spiked dramatically in the last decade. And just to give some context here, 80% of all humanitarian need is driven by conflict. Beyond that, the fragility landscape overall is becoming much more complex.
Srimathi Sridhar: And by fragility, what are we talking about?
Raka Banerjee: When we're talking about fragility, we're looking at economic institutional destabilization, climate change and natural disasters. So for example, the horrific news of the earthquake in conflict affected Syria and neighboring Türkiye brought this into really sharp focus.
Srimathi Sridhar: Worth pointing out I think that Türkiye is currently home to over three and a half million Syrian refugees, which has presented challenges and that many of the issues we're talking about today don't respect borders.
Raka Banerjee: That's absolutely right.
Srimathi Sridhar: And we haven't even mentioned the pandemic.
Raka Banerjee: Right, of course. And that's had a huge impact. So since the onset of COVID, the world has seen a series of massive setbacks to stability in regions all around the world, from Asia and Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean, and more recently, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The World Bank estimates an additional 20 million people are living in extreme poverty in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence.
Srimathi Sridhar: We're just about to hear from a Ukrainian refugee and we know the impacts of this conflict are far-reaching, right?
Raka Banerjee: Yeah. So the war on Ukraine is disrupting livelihoods, it's affecting energy and commodity markets, which includes food of course, and it's placing further stress on areas that were already fragile like Yemen and the Sahel. Then there's displacement of people as a result of the war which has caused the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War II. A staggering 100 million people are now thought to be displaced worldwide.
Srimathi Sridhar: So proof that many of the problems facing FCV states do not respect borders and there is spillover. Thanks for explaining all that to us, Raka.
Raka Banerjee: My pleasure.
Footage audio: We're running now, moving as quickly as we can.
[03:50] Raka Banerjee: Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, millions have left the country in search of security, and as we've just heard, it is the fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II. Many refugees are living in neighboring countries in Europe and some have moved further.
Srimathi Sridhar: So how does it feel to be a year into the conflict and far from home? Our producer, Sarah Treanor, met up for coffee with one woman who chose to leave Ukraine in March 2022 and is now living in a small village near Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Sarah Jane Treanor: Since Russia's invasion a year ago, millions of Ukrainians have left their country and around 150,000 are living in the UK. Many are hosted by families under a special visa scheme.
Lara: My name is Lara and I'm from Ukraine. Literally, I'm a Ukrainian refugee because at the beginning of the war, we had to make a decision to do something to keep our kid, I have a seven-year-old son, safe. And so we decided to move to another country. My husband stayed in Ukraine, living not far from the capital of Ukraine and just literally I saw this Russian plane going by my windows at night and then some explosions. And then in the morning, we knew that they hit the hospital and some residential houses. Then just very quickly, it helped us to make a decision. So we collected our things and actually we moved to nowhere. We didn't know where to move, just we took our kid, we were trying to find a safe route. We were not going through the highways and choosing the small roads. It took us I think 15 hours to get to the border, but usually it takes eight hours to get to the border, but a lot of checks on the roads and it was really very frightening.
Sarah Jane Treanor: You had a really long drive taking back routes to avoid main roads. And then what happened?
Lara: Really, we didn't know where to move. We knew only that it was a decision I take my kid, I take my 70-year-old mom and we're crossing the border where? We didn't know where. We chose Hungary because the Polish border was overcrowded. We are asked, "What are your plans?" Some people ask me, I mean not only British people, but Ukrainian, and I say, "I have no plans. I think about today and maybe a month ahead." Actually, you are looking at the situation, what is going on, and then take a decision. I know that Ukrainian people are surrounded by good people in Europe and here as well, we feel this.
Sarah Jane Treanor: How did you end up with the home that you have at the moment? Was that something that you found on social media or were there official channels? How did you end up with the family that you're with now?
Lara: Actually, social media because I registered on official sites. But when you communicate directly, the results come quicker and actually found a picture of me and my son and I posted in one of the Facebook groups. The lady and the family we are living right now with, she... A lot of people responded to my post and then we had a chat with Jules, our host, and I understood that I think this is the person I can trust.
Sarah Jane Treanor: A year has gone by, nobody really knows when it's going to end, so that must make that feeling of uncertainty even harder.
Lara: Sure, sure. And we try to be optimistic of course, but the threat has gotten worse because they are gathering troops and how it feels. How it feels.
Raka Banerjee: Thank you to Lara for taking the time to talk to us about her personal story.
[08:16] Srimathi Sridhar: A conflict like the one in Ukraine has far-reaching global implications, not just in terms of displaced people. Ukraine was known as the world's bread basket due to its status as an exporter of a huge amount of grain. But those commodities and supply chains, which many in the developing world rely on, continue to be disrupted.
Raka Banerjee: Food insecurity is one of the many overlapping challenges facing South Sudan, the landlocked country which has seen violence on top of violence since it gained independence in 2011. South Sudan also faces urgent climate challenges leading to displacement and more conflict.
Srimathi Sridhar: John Dabi, Deputy Commissioner of South Sudan Commission for Refugee Affairs, told me more firstly about the impact of Ukraine.
Honorable John Dabi: Currently, the status of refugees is that we have almost 341,000 who are hosted by this country from the neighboring countries. Currently, the effect of the war in Ukraine, the humanitarian aspect really has impacted negatively on the food situation because most of the supplies, the war in Ukraine really will impact on African continent, not only South Sudan. The pipeline for food supply used to come from Ukraine because it was relatively convenient, relatively cheaper. The cost of the food has gone very high, five times what it used to be, and that's really a serious issue. We continue to really think of peace because peace is the only way out. And for us in South Sudan, we faced it until now we got the peace agreement that was signed in 2018 where World Bank is now supporting actually the displaced communities through the window for host community and refugee funds. That is helping the people to cope up with the livelihood and to support them. But with this support that's coming from World Bank, we also need to see that there is peace in the country. But if there's no peace, then it's a significant challenge.
Srimathi Sridhar: Mr. Dabi told me that climate change has accelerated the movement of people.
Honorable John Dabi: The whole area is prone to climate change and it's also prone to conflict. So you either become displaced because of the conflict or because of the climate change. But of late, the displacement of violence is subsiding. It's coming down a little bit. It's not as before because right now, there's the peace agreement being implemented. But the displacement within the country, not outside the country, within the country is really because of the climate change.
Srimathi Sridhar: John Dabi speaking to me there on The Development Podcast. Now, for those of you who tuned into our podcast, we're so glad you're here and we're asking for your thoughts on what you like but also what you don't like, and there's a link to a short survey that we hope you'll take available on our streaming platforms.
[11:22] Raka Banerjee: From South Sudan to Lebanon. Lebanon has played hosts to huge numbers of displaced people, millions since the start of the Civil War in Syria.
Srimathi Sridhar: According to the latest figures, around 81% of the estimated 193 million people experience acute food insecurity were in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. We caught up with Fidel Saad, Save the Children Lebanon's Food Security Livelihoods and Social Protection Technical Advisor. He explained a little more about Lebanon's position in the region.
Fidel Saad: Lebanon used to import up to 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, 60% being solely from Ukraine, which all had an immediate impact, but not only on the supply, but also on the prices of food and fuel and other vital commodities with definitely the most vulnerable being the most affected and hit hardest by the price inflation and by the spikes and prices. So the prices of bread increased sixfold since 2019 and after the Russian and Ukraine crisis, the price of a bag of bread increased by up to 20% in the space of a week. So this was during the period of August and September 2022, and this is where we also started seeing more people queuing for hours at the time for bread. And this shortage and the soaring prices also have sparked panic leading to harassment and discrimination against Syrian refugees in Lebanon, specifically at bakeries and supermarkets.
Raka Banerjee: Fidel shared more about some of his greater concerns about what's happening in Lebanon.
Fidel Saad: So there's the food security crisis, but there's also the employment crisis. There's an education crisis in Lebanon and we've seen an increased number of cases of child protection, meaning children engaged in labor, children aged six to 11, children aged probably six-years-old to 15-years-old engaged in labor as well. But also, I mean again, the infrastructure in Lebanon is very poor. So we're talking about crisis on so many different levels. In terms of the immediate food security and basic needs of the families, Save The Children provides cash assistance to vulnerable households to break the integrational cycle of poverty for also fulfilling the rights of children. I mean with the increased needs and with 42% of the entire population in Lebanon facing food insecurity, definitely there's a huge need to be able to support those families and we're only I mean supporting 2,000 families where 2.26 million families are in need in Lebanon.
Raka Banerjee: Fidel Saad with Save the Children Lebanon, many thanks.
[14:05] Srimathi Sridhar: So we've had a bit of a snapshot of life as a refugee and of the very challenges facing countries dealing with a spillover of fragility and conflict. But let's step back and get the big picture from Axel Van Trotsenburg here at the World Bank in Washington D.C. What does the global picture look like as far as FCV in 2023? And what is the World Bank doing to address it?
Raka Banerjee: Axel is Managing Director of Operations at the World Bank Group. He began by explaining to us how he sees these overlapping crises and their impact.
Axel Van Trotsenburg: The mission of the World Bank is to end extreme poverty and work on ending poverty in general. And the unfortunate fact is that more and more extreme poverty is concentrated in FCV countries. Moreover, the sustainable development goals that are already right now off track are even bigger off track in the FCV countries. So it is really a critical question whether we make progress or not on development in general, and the toughest challenge is in the FCV countries. And then of course, the human suffering that we are seeing in many FCV countries are calling out for solidarity, working with partners of the UN of other international organizations of NGOs so that we can at least make a little difference.
[15:25] Srimathi Sridhar: Conflict has a massive spillover effect, thinking about displaced populations. Can you help us understand these issues a little more and how can they further destabilize already fragile settings?
Axel Van Trotsenburg: This is the human face of the conflict and that is the real tragedy because the question is then how long are they leaving? These are not short-term problems. These are problems of years and many refugees are staying not two, three, but more years, namely 10, 15, 20 years. There are very important questions than what you do with refugees, how do you receive them? How do you provide them? Also, some sense of inclusion into the host countries and what it calls for is international solidarity, the willingness to act namely not only to a humanitarian angle but also through a development angle as well as at a dignity level.
Raka Banerjee: I really appreciate you making it clear that this is a false line between humanitarian organizations and development and this call for solidarity on these issues. So we started you mentioned the World Bank's mission of ending extreme poverty, but I wonder what about middle-income countries, right? Because they're also at a much greater risk of destabilization in this era of multiple crises on top of one another.
Axel Van Trotsenburg: The problem is also affecting many middle-income countries. For the low-income countries, you tend to have more concessional resources available or grants available than in middle-income countries, and that makes sometimes support more difficult. I'm thinking for example Syrian refugees in Lebanon or in Jordan, these are middle-income countries that are providing the support and to get the necessary resources for those people is often difficult.
[17:37] Srimathi Sridhar: So Axel, it would be good to have an understanding of the World Bank's longer term strategy. Money upfront is one thing, of course, right? But how else do we provide support to fragile conflict and violence affected countries?
Axel Van Trotsenburg: Well first of all, the World Bank, and I always say this, this is an organization that is oriented towards the long-term, the long-term development. And I say the issue is often when the cameras are gone, our work starts. The only thing what is relevant is that you are a long-term partner and you don't define yourself over the next three months, over the next year or the next two years, you define yourself over the very long-term and that can be even generational. You don't walk away from the problem, you stay with them and you stay as long as it takes.
Raka Banerjee: Zooming out even further, it seems like we're facing a whole new era in development. We have war, climate change, natural disasters are increasing. So how do you think the World Bank should evolve to better address these challenges that are not respecting country borders?
Axel Van Trotsenburg: Well sometimes it's not good to ask me because I tend to be more of the ambitious. I think we have enormous problems. We're seeing that the sustainable development goals are off track. We are seeing climate change that is one and a half degrees do limit that is increasingly out of reach. You see war and you see displacement. So the thing I would warn of, you can have then two conclusions, you can't despair about the world. The fact is that the world has always been difficult and with challenges. So I'm not one on despair, I'm more on the side of hope and that we actually have the means to do something. And it's not only money, and I think therefore you need multilateral organizations like the World Bank to step up and I think we need to be as ambitious as it gets.
In the last three years, we committed to about $210 billion to the developing world, that was up almost $80 billion compared to the three years before. So we show we can actually lift enormously and that resolve is there. And I think that is important for the future because what we need today is not so much, "Oh, this resignation, I cannot do anything," you need actually to have the willingness to act, the willingness to move fast and decisively. My sense is we have the institutional capabilities to step up, I hope that also governments want to join us with the necessary resources and then we may have a fighting chance.
Srimathi Sridhar: This is as optimistic a note that we could end this on. We really thank you for your time. Thank you so much for joining us on The Development Podcast to talk to us about what the bank has been doing around fragility, conflict and violence.
Axel Van Trotsenburg: Thanks, a pleasure.
[21:04] Raka Banerjee: Thanks so much, Axel. So this has been a really pretty heavy podcast. It's really a lot to take in and especially seeing the scope of suffering all around the world from Sudan to Lebanon, Ukraine, of course, it's pretty heartbreaking really.
Srimathi Sridhar: It really is, Raka. But there were some really hopeful notes for the future too from Axel.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, absolutely. And we hope that you enjoyed the episode and please do come back next month when we'll have our next episode up.
Srimathi Sridhar: And don't forget to subscribe.
Raka Banerjee: Bye.
Srimathi Sridhar: Bye, everyone.
ABOUT THE DEVELOPMENT PODCAST
This international development podcast brings together the data, research—and solutions—that can pave the way to a sustainable future. Through conversations focused on revealing the latest data, the best research, and cutting-edge solutions, let us introduce you to the folks working to make the world a better place. Don't miss an episode! Listen and subscribe for free on your favorite platform. And rate our show! ;)
Tell us what you think of our podcast here >>>. We would love to hear from you!
ABOUT THE WORLD BANK GROUP
The World Bank Group is one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for low-income countries. Its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development.