Tom Arms’ World Review

The world’s television cameras have shifted to the tragedy of Ukraine. But that does not mean that the problems elsewhere have disappeared. If anything they have worsened as the money and attention has shifted to the danger of a European, East-West war. There are now 89 million displaced people in the world. The greatest number ever in history. Here’s a very brief summary of some of the worst:

Syria celebrated (if that is the correct word) the 11th anniversary of the start of its civil war this week (15 March). It has, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the dubious distinction of being the centre of the world’s largest displacement of people. The death toll is estimated at 500,000. Six million are internally displaced and five million have fled the country. The biggest number of refugees are in Turkey – 3.7 million. The UNHCR reports that it has only received seven percent of the $465 million it needs for 2022 to provide basic food and shelter. One of the hardest hit areas is Northern Syria where 1.5 million people are living in snow-covered tents spread over 1,489 separate camps. The problems are not confined to the areas where refugees have fled. In about 100 villages in the government-controlled Aleppo region the people are suffering from the absence of drinking water. Possibly the only good news in Syria is that some of Assad’s soldiers are being diverted to Ukraine to help the Russians and the Russians may be unable to provide the assistance to Assad that they have contributed to date.

The Ethiopian war between the government of Abiy Ahmed and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front continues to rage out of the spotlight. So far it is estimated that there are 1.7 million internally displaced people and 500,000 in refugee camps in Sudan. The war has also spread to the Amhar region as the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front attempted to march through that territory to attack Addis Ababa.  Because of a blockade by federal forces no food or medical aid has been delivered to Tigray Province since mid-December. Three-quarters of Tigray’s health facilities have been destroyed. Forget about covid jabs. Both sides are reported to be guilty of rape and murder and have been burning crops, slaughtering livestock and destroying grain stocks. The result is famine. The director-general of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (himself an Ethiopian) has described the situation as “catastrophic.”

The BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson has described the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan as the “destruction of a nation.” Before the Taliban victory 80 percent of the Afghanistan’s budget was derived from foreign aid – mainly from the US. But a humiliated and angry Washington has frozen $10 billion of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves, $7 billion of which is directly held in the Federal Reserve Bank. There is talk of half of it being released for humanitarian relief with the rest going to the victims of the 9/11 attack. The Afghan people certainly need the relief. Roughly 85 percent of a population of 38.4 million are facing starvation. Unemployment is up. Food Prices are up. The Afghan currency is plummeting. Because they are malnourished, there is a measles epidemic among the children. Covid is rampant. The UN has asked for $4.4 billion for basic foodstuffs. By the beginning of March $1.4 billion has been raised.

This week there was a pledging conference at the United Nations in New York to raise money for the victims of the war in Yemen. UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said $4 billion was needed. $1.4 billion was pledged by the wealthy donor countries. The war in Yemen has been raging for five years.  On one side are the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and on the other the coalition government actively supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. So far an estimated 400,000 have died. Four million are internally displaced. Two-thirds of the population require food aid which has now been reduced because of lack of funds. While Donald Trump was in the White House the US and Britain supplied intelligence and military aid to the Saudis and UAE. This was reversed when Joe Biden became president.  Saudi/UAE-US relations were strained and was one of the reasons Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its commitments to Russia after it invaded Ukraine. This week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in the Gulf to try and persuade the two oil producers to join the anti-Russian camp and increase production so that the West could stop imports of Russian energy. If they agree, the Saudis will want renewed Western support for their war against the Houthis and Yemen will continue to suffer.

Finally, let us not forget that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. This may not be so apparent on the streets of America and Europe where most governments have decided that vaccination programmes mean that life can return to a new normal. But elsewhere the story is different. It was reported in Hong Kong this week that twenty percent of the population have Covid-19 and 289 died in a seven-day period. Hong Kong hospitals and mortuaries are filled to capacity. The problems in Hong Kong arises from the fact that only about half of the elderly have been vaccinated and they are, of course, the most vulnerable. The same is true in Mainland China where an estimated 15 million over-80s have yet to be jabbed. The result is a series of lockdowns across the country. The worst is in Jilin Province in Northeast China where 24 million are not being allowed to leave their homes or the region. In the tech hub of Shenzhen, people have been told to work at home and there are also restrictions in Shanghai. The worldwide death toll this week reached 6,087, 572. America leads the list. It has almost reached a million with 995,879 deaths. Possibly because of the anti-vax campaign the number of deaths in the most recent seven-day period were among the highest in the world at 733. Russia is not far behind at 561 deaths in the latest seven-day period.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • It seems pretty obvious that the hurried and disgraceful scuttle from Afghanistan last summer sent a bright green light to Putin in the Ukraine. One could add Biden’s lack of consultation with Johnson showed the empty nature of Johnson’s pretentious bluster about ‘Global Britain’ post Brexit.

  • The catalogue of conflicts Tom Arms lays out is truly horrendous. We seem a long way from the era of peace and prosperity hoped for when the Berlin wall came down. The war in Ukraine seems likely to generate a famine in many middle-eastern and African countries as wheat and fertiliser supplies are disrupted. Food prices are set to go much higher around the world as they did in the run-up to the Arab spring revolts. A loaf of bread is costing $5 in Ukraine at the moment in a country where the state pension is $70 per month. Somalia has seen at least two successive, severe rain failures combined with a very poor grain harvest and is once again on the verge of famine.
    Despite these challenges, the world produces enough food to feed everyone. The UN food program will need serious funding to prevent these food shortages generating mass starvation and the kind of desperate migration flows that they engender.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Mar '22 - 2:18pm

    Tom illustrates the magnitude of the displacements and conflicts causing them. This cannot be allowed to continue or climate change will destroy us all. We need a multi-party negotiation including though not restricted to N. America, China, Russia, eu, uk, Iran and Saudi Arabia that comes up with a comprehensive treaty that stops all bloodshed and provides a framework for ongoing meetings.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Mar '22 - 3:20pm

    The old world is dying, while the new struggles to be born.

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