Paris is convening a bilateral conference on Tuesday for the resilience and reconstruction of Ukraine. Objective: to define the needs of Ukrainians and help them prepare for the post-war period, in a context where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating with the winter.
After nearly ten months of conflict, France is hosting a conference for the resilience and reconstruction of Ukraine, Tuesday, December 13 in Paris, intended to “explain the needs of Ukraine to ensure its economic resilience in times of war and its reconstruction in the medium term, as well as to promote the mobilization of French economic actors on these two essential issues”, according to the terms of the Ministry of the Economy.
The conference will bring together 500 French companies, donors and industrialists, various actors, public and private, to define the emergencies and better coordinate their access.
“Hearing the needs of the civilian population”
Ten months after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the armed conflict has become a long-term one. For Caroline Brandao, researcher in international humanitarian law, international solidarity is no longer as strong as it was a few months ago. “We may have arrived at a time when we must study avenues to move forward and demonstrate that there is no disinterest in the conflict,” says the expert. “This conference can represent a message of hope for Ukrainians, but it should not be above ground.”
The major challenge is to help the population to face the winter, while the strikes against the energy infrastructures continue. “There is no more energy, no more electricity, no more water. Living in these conditions is a double penalty for vulnerable people, such as children or people with disabilities, who do not couldn’t escape.”
Despite the billions of euros paid in support of the populations, “the humanitarian response is not up to par”, for the expert. “You have to listen to the needs of the civilian population.”
According to UN human rights chief Volker Türk, 17.7 million people now need humanitarian aid and 9.3 million need food and livelihood aid.
Rely on municipalities and civil society
On the ground, coordination between Western NGOs and Ukrainian organizations is encountering difficulties. Humanitarian actors, who are used to working in war zones in failed states, arrived with inappropriate methods and felt overwhelmed by Ukrainians’ use of technology.
“At the start of the conflict, international aid arrived with its own methods,” explains François Grünewald, managing director of the Urgence Réhabilitation Développement (URD) group, an independent institute specializing in humanitarian practices and policies. “She had to deal with totally different dynamics of a Ukrainian civil society which is very digitized.”
Ukrainian support networks were quickly organized on Facebook and Telegram groups. “So we had two disconnected bubbles that took a long time to coordinate,” he explains.
One of the avenues for better coordination would be to go through local authorities. “Municipalities and civil society actors are at the heart of the humanitarian response,” says François Grünewald. “Today there is no mechanism to work directly with municipalities when they need money to buy equipment.”
According to the expert, it is above all the urban areas that should be targeted. “Rural areas get by with wood and fireplaces. But in the city, all the heating infrastructure is destroyed and needs to be replaced.”
Destroy everything to rebuild everything
Thinking about the aftermath, about medium-term reconstruction, is one of the priorities given during the conference which will take place on 13 December. “This is what gives hope to the Ukrainians”, explains the director of the URD group. “The suburbs of Kharkiv, for example, are an ocean of ruins. In the west, very important economic and industrial infrastructure areas with old factories from the Soviet period are completely damaged. Everything will have to be destroyed to rebuilding everything is going to take a long time.”
The World Bank estimates that more than $500 billion is needed to rebuild Ukrainian infrastructure damaged or completely destroyed by Russia.
“The humanitarian consequences of this war are catastrophic,” World Bank Vice President Anna Bjerde told Austrian newspaper Die Press. “Without infrastructure, there is no economy, no tax revenue for the Ukrainian state.” Eight million people will be living in poverty in Ukraine by the end of 2022, she added. “This increases the level of poverty from 2 to 25% of the population.”
For the European Commission, it is up to Russia to pay. “Russia and its oligarchs must compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the cost of rebuilding the country,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a press conference on 30 November.
And the means of compensation exist, according to the leader, who offered to use “certain Russian funds” frozen by EU sanctions. Some 300 billion euros of reserves of the Russian Central Bank have been blocked since the beginning of the war, as well as 19 billion euros of assets of Russian oligarchs.
Russia must pay for its horrific crimes.
We will work with the ICC and help set up a specialized court to try Russia’s crimes.
With our partners, we will make sure that Russia pays for the devastation it caused, with the frozen funds of oligarchs and assets of its central bank pic.twitter.com/RL4Z0dfVE9
—Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 30, 2022
A long list of participants
Access to energy and water, food, health and transport: so many sectors and issues that will be discussed at Bercy on Tuesday. The conference aims to provide concrete answers in the very short term, according to the Elysée.
In addition to the 500 French companies wishing to contribute to the reconstruction of Ukraine, France is counting on nearly 70 “high-level” participants, representing the main States and international organizations that are partners of Ukraine. The presence of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has been confirmed, as well as a remote intervention by Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN. A speech by Olena Zelenska, First Lady of Ukraine, is also scheduled on the program.
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