Ukraine war threatens food security in fragile Arab world

“Even bread is not something we allow anymore,” said the 48-year-old housewife, who recently stood in front of a supermarket aisle in front of a gallon of cooking oil, the price of which has risen to an all-time high.

From Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Yemen, millions of people in the Middle East whose lives have already been marred by conflict, displacement and poverty are now wondering where their next food will come from. Ukraine and Russia account for one-third of global wheat and barley exports, which Middle Eastern countries depend on to feed millions of people who depend on subsidized bread and bargaining noodles. They are the top exporter of other cereals and sunflower seed oil which is used for cooking.

Even before the war in Ukraine, people in the Middle East and North Africa did not have enough food. Now that trade has been hampered by conflict, more products are either out of purchasing power or becoming unavailable.

Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “Simply put, people cannot afford the quality or quantity of food they need, which is a conflict-and-crisis-prone country … most at risk.”

A similar situation led to a series of uprisings known as the Arab Spring in late 2010, when bread prices skyrocketed anti-government protests across the Middle East, said Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

“When prices rise, and the poor can’t feed their families, they will take to the streets,” Georgieva commented at the Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.

In Iraq and Sudan, public frustration over food prices and a lack of government services have sparked street protests over the past few weeks.

“People have a right to food, and governments must do everything in their power to protect that right, otherwise we risk not only food security, but widespread deprivation at this level that could lead to insecurity and instability,” Faqih said.

The war has also raised concerns that much of the international aid on which the Arab world relies heavily will be diverted to Ukraine, where more than 3.7 million people have fled the war, Europe’s largest exodus since World War II.

“For millions of Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Syrians and others living in countries facing conflict, catastrophic economic recession and growing humanitarian needs, this would be tantamount to cutting off critical life support,” said an analysis published by Carnegie Middle. Last week, the former expert said.

In Syria, 14.6 million people will depend on aid this year, 9% more than in 2021 and 32% more than in 2020, Joyce Musua, the UN’s assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, told the UN. Security Council in February.

In Yemen, basic needs for millions of poor people are becoming more difficult to meet after seven years of war. A recent report by the United Nations and international aid groups estimates that more than 160,000 people in Yemen could face famine-like conditions by 2022. Due to the war in Ukraine, this number could be much higher A UN request for the country earlier this month raised $ 1.3 billion, less than a third of what was sought.

“I have nothing,” said Ghalib al-Najjar, a 48-year-old Yemeni father of seven whose family has been living in a refugee camp outside the rebel-held capital, Sanaa, after more than four fights in their middle-class neighborhood. Many years ago. “I need flour, a packet of flour. I’d like some rice. I need sugar. I need what people need (to survive).

In Lebanon, which has been in the grip of an economic downturn for the past two years, panic has spread among people suffering from shortages of electricity, medicine and petrol.

In 2020, a massive explosion in the port of Beirut destroyed the country’s main grain silos. Now, with only six weeks of wheat in stock, many are anticipating darker days ahead Several large supermarkets were out of flour and corn oil this week.

Hani Bohsali, head of the Food Importers’ Syndicate, said: “Everything he has is being bought. He said 60% of the cooking oil used in Lebanon comes from Ukraine and most of the rest comes from Russia.

“It’s not a small problem,” he said. Bohsali noted that there is an ongoing search for alternative locations from which essential goods can be imported, but said that other countries have either banned food exports or significantly increased prices.

Meanwhile, the price of 5 liters (1 gallon) of cooking oil in Lebanon is now equal to the monthly minimum wage, which is still fixed at 675,000 Lebanese pounds or 29 29, although the currency has lost about 90% of its value since October 2019. Families, including Aswad, also spend a large portion of their monthly income on nearby generators that light their homes most of the day in the absence of state-supplied electricity. Even those who are now threatening to shut down say they can no longer afford to buy fuel in the market.

“We’re back in the Stone Age, hoarding things like candles and toast and pecans (a processed cheese brand) if we run out of everything,” Aswad said.

In Syria, where more than 90% of the country’s population lives in poverty after more than 11 years of brutal war, prices for cooking oil – when they are available – have doubled in the months since the war began in Ukraine. In a government cooperative in the capital Damascus in recent days, shelves without sugar and napkins were almost empty.

Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, is the most risky. Economic pressures are mounting in a country with rising inflation, with nearly one-third of the population of more than 103 million living below the poverty line, according to official figures.

An Associated Press reporter who visited markets in three different middle-class neighborhoods in Cairo earlier this month found that the price of a staple food, such as bread – which Egyptians refer to as “ish” or life – has risen by 50%. The upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, usually due to the time of increased demand, may cause inflation to rise further.

Consumers have accused traders of using the war in Ukraine to raise prices, although they have not yet been affected.

Doa El-Sayed, an Egyptian primary school teacher and mother of three, lamented, “They benefit from our suffering.” “I have to reduce the amount of things I buy,” he said.

In Libya, a country plagued by a year-long civil war, the latest rise in food prices has made people worried that hard times lie ahead. And in Gaza, skyrocketing prices have already begun to rise since the start of the war in Ukraine, adding an additional challenge to the 2 million inhabitants of impoverished Palestinian enclaves who have endured years of blockades and conflicts.

Fayek Abu Akr, a trader in Gaza, imports essentials such as cooking oil, lentils and pasta from a Turkish company. When the company canceled the cooking oil deal after the war started, Acker returned to Egypt. But despite being close to Gaza, prices were higher there. The price of a box of four bottles of cooking oil is now $ 26, double the pre-war price.

“In 40 years of my business, I have never seen such a crisis,” he said.

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Bassem Mro, Associated Press writer in Beirut; Sammy Magdy in Cairo; Wafa Shurafa in Gaza City; And Rami Musa in Benghazi, Libya, contributed to this report.

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