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World Food Programme sounds alarm as food prices rise in MidEast

Currency depreciation and pandemic job losses in neighboring Lebanon and Syria have contributed to major food inflation in both countries.
AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

Middle East countries have experienced some of the highest price increases in food, the UN World Food Programme said Thursday, warning that millions of families already struggling with pandemic job losses are unable to put nutritious food on the table. 

"High food prices are hunger's new best friend," the WFP’s chief economist Arif Husain said in a statement. "We already have conflict, climate and COVID-19 working together to push more people into hunger and misery. Now food prices have joined the deadly trio."

The UN food agency estimates that in 2021, a record 270 million people around the world will be acutely food insecure or at high risk of food insecurity — a jump of 40% compared to 2020. 

Husain noted that the countries most likely to experience price hikes rely on food imports or are suffering from climatic or conflict shocks to local food production. Countries dealing with currency depreciation, such as Syria, are especially vulnerable to soaring food costs. 

According to the WFP, the price of cooking oil in Syria has increased by 440% compared to a year ago and  the average price of basic food items is now 29 times higher than before the war erupted in 2011. Across the country, an estimated 12.4 million Syrians are food insecure, an increase of 4.5 million in the past year. 

Amid soaring food prices in Syria, the UN Security Council is weighing whether to renew an aid operation into Syria that supplies opposition-controlled Idlib with WFP-provided food baskets and other humanitarian goods. If Russia vetoes the resolution in the coming days, aid agencies say they have the resources to provide food to just 300,000 people in Idlib, meaning more than 1 million would be left without food assistance.

In Lebanon, the WFP says the average price of wheat flour has risen by 219% in the past year. The small Mediterranean country is experiencing its worst economic and financial crisis in decades since its 1975-1990 civil war. Unemployment and poverty rates have surged, and the Lebanese currency has lost more than 90% of its value since October 2019.  

Yemen is also witnessing an unprecedented hunger crisis, with pockets of the Arab world’s poorest country currently experiencing famine-like conditions. WFP estimates 1.2 million pregnant or breastfeeding Yemeni women and 2.3 million children under five are in need of treatment for acute malnutrition.

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