Food inflation, currency collapse ‘imperil food security in MENA’
The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is being hit by a worsening food security crisis due to high food price inflation and collapsing currencies, even as it celebrates the beginning of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan.
This is affecting millions of people across the region, particularly those living in countries already facing conflict and instability, according to UN’s World Food Programme.
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.
Lebanon and Syria
Five countries in the region have seen food price inflation going beyond 60% just this year with Lebanon and Syria facing triple-digit food inflation at 138% and 105% respectively. In Iran, Türkiye, and Egypt, annual food inflation is more than 61%, 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 Covid-19 pandemic.
“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.”
Global food prices
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% 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.”
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.