When the Muslims of Lebanon sat down to their first iftar of Ramadan tonight, the food in front of you will have cost much more than it did six weeks ago.
The Middle Eastern country, mired in economic crisis and battling inflation before war broke out in Ukraine, it now finds itself dealing with even higher price increases for wheat and cooking oil.
“In 2021, when prices were already high, I was using the same oil to cook various dishes,” Mona Amsha, from Beirut, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week. “Now, I can’t even do that.”
Fears around wheat imports: more than 60% of which came last year from the Ukraine – are particularly acute because Lebanon’s reserves are limited. The big bang that crossed the port of Beirut in August 2020 and killed more than 200 people, it also destroyed the main grain silos. As a result, the country is believed to have enough wheat to last only about six weeks.
Government has said it is trying to secure new imports from India, the US and Kazakhstan, all of which would mean grain traveling much longer distances on increasingly expensive shipping routes. Meanwhile, according to agriculture minister Abbas Hajj Hassan: “There are no wheat crisis in Lebanon today.
But the shortage is already starting to show on supermarket shelves; some bakeries are rationing bread, and the price has risen since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine they are obvious, says Bujar Hoxha, country director of Care International.
“From February 24 to March 21 we have seen an overall increase of 14% in food prices,” he says. “For bread, for example, it is 27%. For white sugar it is 72%. For sunflower oil it is 83%”. Fears are also rising over the cost of fuel, essential for the supply of electricity and water.
Few sectors of society are more vulnerable to these changes than Lebanon’s 1.5 million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in abject poverty and depend on food aid. Many fled Russian bombing in their homeland and are now preparing to feel the fallout from another of Vladimir Putin’s wars.
“When we think about poverty, I always try to use sea level,” says Hoxha. “If there are Lebanese living below the poverty line, we always have to imagine that the Syrian refugees are at minus 20 degrees from sea level at that poverty line.”
The decision of some countries to ban exports has exacerbated the problem. Last week, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, Algeria asked to exempt you from a ban on imposed sugar exports at the middle of March. Hoxha says that Care tried to buy vegetable oil from Turkey but was unable to do so.
The next few months, then, could be challenging, and hopes for the holy month are decidedly low. “This will be one of the most difficult Ramadans Lebanon has ever faced,” says Hoxha. “We thought it was last year. We thought a year before that. But this one will be particularly difficult.”
the worst drought for four decades; famine so widespread famine could develop In a few months; to resurgence of violence by jihadi terrorists seeking to topple the fragile government: Even before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on February 24, Somalia had more than enough on its plate. Now, with the invasion crippling the world’s breadbasket, the East African country has to grapple with another challenge: skyrocketing prices for basic goods.
“A week ago, a 20-liter can of cooking oil cost $25, today it costs around $50 [£38]. A liter of gasoline used to cost $0.64 and today it costs around $1.80, which is crazy,” Mohamed Osman, a trader, told Agence France-Presse this week.
In Somalia, where 1.4 million children under the age of five Thought to be severely malnourished and with over 4 million people dependent on emergency food aid, price increases of any size are going to have an impact. And while not as dependent on wheat imports as some countries are, Somalia has plenty of other reasons to fear the domino effect of the war in Ukraine.
Petroc Wilton, a spokesman for the UN World Food Program (WFP), says that most of the agency’s food assistance in Somalia it was done through cash transfers, which were highly vulnerable to market fluctuations. “Any major impact on the purchasing power of the people we serve from sudden price changes is a real concern, particularly in the context of this very, very severe drought,” he says.
The drought affecting the country has been building up since October 2020, and the UN has warned that Somalia could slide into famine this year if the rains expected in the coming weeks are not heavy enough. In 2011, the last time Somalia saw the famineNearly 260,000 people are believed to have died.
Before Ukraine’s invasion, food prices had already risen due to drought, with livestock dying or declining in quality and grain harvests such as sorghum well below long-term averages. “The medium-term effects of the Ukraine crisis are just one more reason for very serious concern,” says Wilton.
WFP in Somalia is “about” to receive the last food shipment, a delivery of yellow split peas, which left the port of Odessa before it was forced to close, adds Wilton. “After that, we currently don’t have any visibility on further expected shipments. So yes, there is real concern that shortages of some of these staples coming into Somalia and the region could drive up prices.”
For decades, tens of millions of Egyptians have been able to go to their local bakery and buy subsidized flatbread for just pennies. Bread is so central to the Egyptian way of life that it is known as Aish – literally, “life.”
Soon, however, that fixed price could rise as the government seeks to respond to rising wheat costs as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Egypt, the world’s leading importer of wheat, is particularly vulnerable to the price shock, and consumers are already seeing large increases in the cost of unsubsidized goods.
Last year, Egypt imported more than 70% of its wheat from Russia or Ukraine, according to the UN, so the first challenge for the state is to look for alternative suppliers outside the Black Sea. This week, France’s agriculture minister, for his part, said his country “waiting” from Egypt “to make sure you get the wheat you need in the coming months.”
But there are problems with most of the alternatives. French wheat has in the past considered too wet. Other large exporters such as Australia or Canada bring with them significant additional costs in terms of transportation, especially in times of high fuel prices.
In an interview last month, the supply minister, Ali El MoselhyHe implored Egyptians not to worry, saying the country’s stocks were sufficient for at least four months and there was “a political will and a vision to maintain wheat stocks.” The local crop, according to Bloomberg, was expected to generate 1 million tons more than forecast.
However, with the average price per ton of imported wheat around $100 more expensive now than it was last year, many also expect the government to act on subsidized breads. The program had already been a target before the invasion of Ukraine; last year president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi declared:: “It is not realistic to sell 20 loaves of bread for the same price as a cigarette… This must stop.” Now such a move seems inevitable.
But in a country where around a third of the population lives below the poverty line, it remains to be seen whether the government is prepared for the social ramifications. “When prices go up and the poor can’t feed their families, they will be on the streets.” warns Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, last weekend. “One thing we know about problems in a place is that it travels. It doesn’t stay there.”
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