Kuwait Times, Sunday, Mar 26, 2023 | Ramadan 4, 1444
Inflation threatens food security in MENA region
The World Food Program (WFP) cautioned against the
impacts of food inflation and currency collapse on food security in the Middle
East and North Africa (MENA) region. As the region celebrates the beginning of
the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, it is experiencing a deepening food security
crisis due to the combination of high food inflation and collapsing currencies,
WFP said in a press release on Thursday.
“This is affecting millions of people across the region, particularly those
living in countries already facing conflict and instability,” according to the
statement. Food prices are skyrocketing and many countries in the region are
dealing with crippling budget deficits, high levels of public debt, currency
devaluation and dangerous levels of inflation.
Five countries in the region have seen food inflation going beyond 60 percent
just this year with Lebanon and Syria facing triple-digit food inflation at 138
percent and 105 percent respectively. In Iran, Turkiye and Egypt, annual food
inflation is more than 61 percent, making it difficult for families to afford
essential food items like bread, rice, and vegetables. As national food
production cannot satisfy domestic needs, heavy reliance on imports has exposed
the region to fluctuations in global food prices -exacerbated by the war in
Ukraine – as well as to supply chain disruptions caused most recently by the
“The region’s dependency on food imports means millions of people – particularly
the poorest – are vulnerable when internal or external shocks push up food
prices,” said WFP’s Chief Economist Arif Husain. “The combination of high food
inflation, collapsing currencies and stagnant incomes has left families unable
to put food on the table,” Husain regretted. Global food prices remain at a
10-year high despite a slight decline in recent months.
“These fluctuations will not dent domestic food inflation in countries facing a
toxic combination of tumbling currency values and high inflation,” added Husain.
According to February data, four out of 15 countries on WFP’s currency watch
list are in the region. In Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, and Iran, currencies have
depreciated between 45 and 71 percent over the past 12 months alone.
“In 2019, an average Syrian family earned enough to buy more than double what
they needed every month for food,” said WFP Country Director and Representative
in Syria Kenn Crossley. “Right now, that same income, which has not gone up, can
only buy a quarter of what a family need,” he noted. At the same time, food
production in the MENA region is curtailed by both conflict and a deepening
climate crisis. In Iraq and Syria, prolonged droughts and the effects of
conflicts have reduced cultivated areas and cut food production.
The region has been hit hard by the climate crisis, and is seeing prolonged
droughts and heat waves, wildfires, flooding, erratic rainfall and landslides.
As the crisis continues, it is critical that governments, international
organizations, and donor countries take action to address food security across
the region. This includes increasing funding for humanitarian assistance,
supporting local farmers to boost food production, and addressing the underlying
causes of conflict and instability in the region.
“Governments need to invest more in agriculture across the region where almost
all countries are import-dependent,” says WFP Regional Director for the Middle
East, North Africa and Eastern Europe Corinne Fleischer. “This is a long-term
strategy that will not help the poor cope with price rises now but will pay
dividends some years down the line,” Fleischer added.
The number of food-insecure people across the region increased by 20 percent
over the past three years – reaching more than 41 million people, compared to
2019. In response, WFP is using integrated approaches, which aim to address the
root causes of food insecurity while at the same time meeting immediate needs.
In 2023, WFP is targeting nearly 35 million people across the MENA with food and
nutrition assistance and working to increase the resilience of the most
vulnerable in the face of regional and global shocks.