Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Ukraine Uncovers A World at War

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, March 21 / 22

Zack Gross

I remember chairing a panel discussion with representatives of international aid agencies involved in dealing with numerous global crises back a few years ago.  At one point, a question I threw out to the speakers was “Are your organizations making progress in helping to create a better world, or are you just trying to cope with one crisis after another?”

It seemed like a downer of a question, but it was one that all of us need answered.  The response was that there are definitely forward steps being taken in our world – more children are being educated, more women are entering the job market, people are living longer, and more.  But, there are backward steps, too. 

Climate change, which many denied and delayed taking action on, is now clearly a scourge, destroying property, wrecking economies and killing people.  COVID, as a representative of present and possibly future pandemics, has had a devastating effect on the planet over the past two years, causing over six million deaths, with over 1700 in Manitoba.

The third scourge is war, “highlighted” in today’s world by the invasion of Ukraine.  Not only are the casualties and the destruction catastrophic, but the long-term impacts are still being sorted out.  For instance, Ukraine has been one of the planet’s bread baskets, so that now experts in agriculture fear a coming famine globally from this conflict.  A refugee crisis, not seen in Europe since the Second World War, is also unfolding.  And what of the future of geopolitics, as we may descend into a new Cold War, further dividing us as a human species and casting us under a nuclear-fear cloud.

 Ukraine isn’t the only country where war is taking place.  Spokespeople from diverse cultural and ethnic sectors have pointed out that their home countries and regions have been at war, and those of us in the “West” have hardly noticed.  The Crisis Group, an international think tank on conflict, published Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2022, at the end of last year, even before the invasion of Ukraine took place.

The Crisis Group’s list included the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the bloody war in Ethiopia, and the terrible slaughter in Syria.  Interestingly, it includes the volatile political situation in the United States that led to the January 6th mob violence at the Capitol in Washington.  It also warns of possible open conflict in Ukraine, which now has come to pass.

Other websites and organizations point out wars taking place in our world that don’t always get headlines.  There’s a drug war in Mexico and parts of Central and South America that has claimed thousands of lives.  There are extremist insurgencies in West, North and Central Africa that disrupt life and cause death and destruction.  Myanmar (Burma) has a civil war on-going that has been pushed from the headlines.  Yemen is another one.  In all, there are over forty armed conflicts taking place.

It’s not only the direct impact of bombs and bullets that kill innocent people in war.  Conflict breeds poverty and famine, with the elderly, children and women the most vulnerable.  In Ukraine today, civilians face cold, a lack of food and water, and no electricity.  Many have gone from regular lives to refugee status and have lost everything except what they can carry.  They may end up in new countries without the language, and with no one they know, possibly orphaned or widowed.

Project Ploughshares is an organization affiliated with the Canadian Council of Churches.  It publishes an annual map of all the wars happening around the world and puts out The Monitor, the most current issue of which has a cover article on how Canadian technological “advances” are used in modern weapon systems. 

While those of us observing the invasion of Ukraine may believe that we need a strong military and mega-weapons in order to deter or stand against aggression, this organization and many others raise the question of whether we as a species will ever be able to negotiate our way out of conflict or come up with new ideas on how to co-exist and live equitably, justly and environmentally on this planet.  And how do we wean out the ideologies and leaders who lead us to conflict?

How can we guarantee everyone’s security and offer everyone basic nutrition, health care, education, employment, and rights?  I don’t pretend that any of this would be easy to do.  But so many innocent people on our planet today wish we could find a way.

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.

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