The COVID-19 pandemic and rising food prices linked to the Russian war on Ukraine could push hundreds of millions into desperate circumstances, the group warned as it urged governments partaking in the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting to take action.
“Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes. The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them.
“Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” said Gabriela Bucher, executive director of Oxfam International, on Monday.
As many as 263 million people could be plunged into extreme poverty in 2022 – a rate of one million every 33 hours, Oxfam said, adding this reversed decades of progress.
By contrast, the number of billionaires has risen by 573 to just less than 2,700 since 2020. Their cumulative wealth rose nearly $3.8 trillion to $12.7 trillion, the group said after analysing data from Forbes.
“Millions of people around the world are facing a cost-of-living crisis due to the continuing effects of the pandemic and the rapidly rising costs of essentials, including food and energy,” the Oxfam report said.
“Inequality, already extreme before COVID-19, has reached new levels,” it added, demanding taxes on the rich.
The World Bank defines the extreme poor as those living on less than $1.90 a day.
“The single most urgent and structural action that governments must take now is to implement highly progressive taxation measures that in turn must be used to invest in powerful and proven measures that reduce inequality, such as universal social protection and universal healthcare,” the report said.
The four-day conference in the glitzy mountain resort, which comes after a COVID-induced two-year break, will be dominated by the political and economic fallout from the conflict.
At WEF, Moscow is persona non grata
Those in the food and energy sector enjoyed a windfall in revenues from soaring commodity costs.
Food prices, already pushed higher because of COVID-19 disruptions and weather woes, took another jump higher when Russia’s invasion roiled grain and oil supplies.
When the WEF last took place in Davos in January 2020, the coronavirus was just emerging in China before morphing into a devastating pandemic.
A Davos forum took place virtually last year with Russian President Vladimir Putin among the speakers.
Russian business and political leaders, who used to participate in debates and mingle with other A-listers at champagne parties, were barred by organisers from attending this year’s gathering over the war.
Ukrainians, meanwhile, have deployed a strong contingent, including the foreign minister, to plead their case, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy scheduled to address the forum via videolink on Monday.
“The major request to the whole world here is: do not stop backing Ukraine,” Ukrainian legislator Ivanna Klympush Tsintsadze told reporters on the eve of the summit.
Another politician, Anastasia Radina, appealed for NATO-style heavy weaponry to “win the war”.
“We actually need weapons more than we need anything else,” she said.
The Ukrainians have transformed the “Russia House” in Davos – normally used by the Russian delegation – into the “Russia War Crimes House” to promote their cause.