Major food crisis looms on Arab countries in the wake of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering from acute hunger by the end of 2020, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned in a recent report. Notably, the pandemic has escalated the existing food shortages in many developing and poor countries leading to a rise in the hunger rate. One of the most affected regions from the food crisis is the Arab region with countries like Syria and Yemen topping the charts.
Being largely dependent on food imports, some of the Arab countries are highly affected by the rising global food crisis due to Coronavirus pandemic. Due to worldwide lockdown and closure of borders across the countries, there is a disruption in global food networks. Restrictions in the transportation of food products and a significant reduction in the number of workers in transit have resulted in food supply chain and inflation in food prices. Curfews and lockdowns have also affected the agriculture sector as workers are not able to work normally, leading to wastage of harvests and farm produce.
While countries in the Arab world are not fully prepared to tackle the crisis of food shortage, some of the countries are taking precautionary measures to safeguard their reserves. Egypt, which the second-largest importer of wheat in the world, has increased its purchase of grains and regulated legume export. The UAE has also approved a law organizing stocks of food products in case of emergencies. Saudi Arabia has put an indefinite ban on the sale of food staples like rice and vegetable oil. However, experts believe some of the Arab world countries including Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria are facing an acute food crisis.
According to a report by the World Bank, Gulf countries import 100 percent of their staple foods. The UN also affirmed that the high dependency on food imports within the Arab region will adversely affect food security in the countries. In its report, the United Nations stated that the economic consequences of the global pandemic threaten to plunge millions in the Arab world into food insecurity and poverty.
The UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) called for the Arab governments to take “swift emergency response” in order to protect the citizens from falling into food insecurity and poverty due to the ramifications of COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the organization suggested on reducing food loss and wastage that will help in improving food availability and reducing food imports across the countries. It is also important for the governments to join forces to keep borders open for trading, do away with import tariffs and export restrictions in order to prevent disruptions in the global food system.