Will fall in food waste in the Middle East outlast the coronavirus pandemic?

The problem of food waste is a global one. (AFP)
The problem of food waste is a global one. (AFP)
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Updated 10 December 2020

Will fall in food waste in the Middle East outlast the coronavirus pandemic?

Will fall in food waste in the Middle East outlast the coronavirus pandemic?
  • Reduction in food waste bodes well for a region known for overconsumption and overreliance on imports
  • UN agencies estimate around a third of the world’s food is being wasted, or roughly 1.43 billion tons every year

DUBAI, LONDON: COVID-19 has been a disaster for the hospitality sector, shutting restaurants, bars and cafes for months on end, devouring their profits and causing many to close down for good.

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic cloud, however, is the substantial reduction in food waste and the rise of a more conscientious approach to consumption.

Across the Middle East and North Africa region, the signs are promising, at least for now. A survey of 284 people in Tunisia conducted by the US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) this year found 85 percent of respondents discarded no household food waste, while a majority said they had devised a strategy for saving, storing and eating leftovers.

“Changes in food waste prevention might be driven more by the socio-economic context of the COVID-19 lockdown, such as food availability, restricted movements or loss of income than by a pro-environmental concern,” the NCBI said in its study.

It is no secret that GCC member states are among the highest waste-generating countries per capita in the world. However, in the UAE, the volume of food waste fell in 2020 once the biggest food wasters like hotels closed up their kitchens. Households also changed their shopping habits, buying only what they needed and saving what they could not finish.

“During the lockdown, many of us have been experiencing self-reliance. We have reassessed the value of our comforts that we usually took for granted,” said Ivano Iannelli, chief executive of green economy think tank Dubai Carbon.

Some employers have chosen to cut salaries to help weather the economic storm, which has forced families to reduce their daily consumption by cooking in more and storing their leftovers.

Food retailers in the GCC region have done rather well out of the pandemic, with many more customers ordering groceries to their door, according to a 2020 report by US sales intelligence firm Altios International Inc.

Consumers have also started buying more essential items in bulk to avoid regular trips to the store, the data suggests. “In the UAE, the snacks category has been steadily growing and is expected to see marked growth as consumers stay indoors during the COVID-19 outbreak,” the report said.

Two UAE residents interviewed by Arab News exemplify the popular embrace of the digital marketplace. May Adel, an e-commerce account executive, said she has completely shifted to online grocery shopping since the pandemic began as she finds it safer and more convenient.

Zaheda Muntazir, social media marketer, said: “I have started to shop online more, especially grocery delivery, as it is easier especially during this critical time.”

Of course, the real world of consumption is more complicated. Preeti Bisht, an organic waste management and compostable food packaging specialist, says many people have reverted to their older shopping habits now that the more stringent lockdown measures have been lifted. Nevertheless, owing to a general climate of financial insecurity, customers appear far more aware of their monthly expenses.




In Saudi Arabia, approximately 33 percent of food is wasted. (AFP)

“Most people buy weekly groceries, which are well listed before visiting the supermarket to avoid unwanted stuff,” she told Arab News.

Additionally, social-distancing rules have made family gatherings far less common this year, which has helped reduce the associated waste of laying on big spreads at holiday time. “It is believed that, during Ramadan, food waste is double the normal level,” said Bisht.

“As per conservative estimates, around 15-25 percent of all food items purchased or prepared during Ramadan find its way into the garbage bin before being used or consumed.”

In Saudi Arabia, approximately 33 percent of food is wasted, costing the country $10.6 billion per year, according to a study by the Saudi Grains Organization.

“To my knowledge, the Kingdom has the maximum food waste in the Middle East region. They generate an average of 427kg of food waste per capita annually,” Bisht said.

To be certain, the problem of food waste is a global one. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates around a third of the world’s food is being wasted — equal to approximately 1.43 billion tons every year.

Similar are the conclusions of a 2020 report by Deloitte, the professional services network, which not only shows that 33 percent of food produced globally is wasted but expects this figure to rise over the course of the pandemic.




33 percent of food produced globally is wasted. (AFP)

“(This is) due to catering industry companies that need to get rid of expired food products, food production companies that are forced to switch their portfolio from out-of-home products to food retail products and (unnecessary) food hoarding by consumers,” the report said.

The Dubai Municipality said this year that global food waste costs around $1 trillion each year, and approximately $410 billion annually to dispose of. As for people in the UAE, it said they purchase an “alarming amount of food” that is surplus to requirements.

Iannelli of Dubai Carbon says food-waste reduction is beneficial from both “upstream and downstream” ends. Less waste ultimately means lower production, which implies consumption of fewer resources like water, energy and transportation, resulting in lower emissions.

The moral and ethical dimensions of the issue cannot be glossed over either given that almost one billion people worldwide are experiencing hunger. “If only one quarter of the food wasted was saved, it would feed about 870 million hungry people across the world,” Dubai Municipality said.

In Yemen, more than 20 million people are food insecure and 13 million require World Food Programme (WFP) assistance to meet their daily needs, according to a 2020 WFP report. “Another three million people are at risk of worsening hunger as coronavirus sweeps unchecked across Yemen,” it said.

Food deliveries may be part of the more frugal approach to consumption, but it is not entirely free of waste. Mishandled or delayed meals can be rejected and end up in the trash. Prank calls for fake orders can also result in waste, the FAO says.

Companies are also at fault for encouraging food waste through special offers, says Ryan Ingram, founder of UAE-based TerraLoop Food Waste Consulting.

“If online outlets are offering multiple bargains — buy one get one free and larger portion sizes etc. — then there may tend to be over-purchase and therefore more waste,” he told Arab News.




Because of the coronavirus, consumers have also started buying more essential items in bulk to avoid regular trips to the store. (AFP)

Leftovers tend to find their way into the trash as takeaway food often has a shorter shelf life than home-cooked meals, Ingram said.

Clearly, consumer habits in the Middle East will take time to adjust. Meanwhile, governments, international organizations and influential public figures can do their bit.

The issue of reducing food waste is highlighted in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Goals 2 and 12 calling for achieving zero hunger, and halving food waste and reducing food loss by 2030, respectively.

“Food loss and waste is an ethical outrage. In a world with enough food to feed all people, everywhere, 690 million people continue to go hungry and 3 billion cannot afford a healthy diet,” Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said in a message on Sept. 19, the first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste Reduction.

In the UAE, the National Committee for Reducing Food Waste and Loss has set up initiatives to help lower the rate of food waste by 15 percent by the end of 2021, according to a report by the business news agency Zawya.

“We have a habit of excess that we need to restrain,” Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed told an online Ramadan majlis in May. “If this excess or overspending is for a good cause, like charity, it is good and we support it, but overspending for no reason is bad.”

With luck, mass vaccination campaigns should draw the curtain on the coronavirus pandemic by the middle of 2021, allowing the hospitality sector to flourish once again. But experts believe the pandemic-driven shift to online retail from brick-and-mortar stores is likely to continue. Only time will tell whether the trend will also lead to a lasting culture of conscientious food consumption.

Twitter: @farahheiba94


Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
Updated 6 sec ago

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
  • 20 tons of ammonium nitrate seized after raid on fertilizer warehouse in eastern Bekaa Valley
  • Shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at Beirut Port caused a massive blast, killing 214 people, last year
BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media reported on Saturday.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast.
On Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area.
“We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.
“One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday,” one of the company heads told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations.
“We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years,” the company official added.
When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives.
Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.

Church in former Daesh Iraqi stronghold gets new bell

Church in former Daesh Iraqi stronghold gets new bell
Updated 50 min 59 sec ago

Church in former Daesh Iraqi stronghold gets new bell

Church in former Daesh Iraqi stronghold gets new bell
  • The bell weighing 285kg was cast in Lebanon with donations from a French NGO

MOSUL: A bell was inaugurated at a church in Mosul on Saturday to the cheers of Iraqi Christians, seven years after the Daesh group overran the northern city.
Dozens of faithful stood by as Father Pios Affas rang the newly installed bell for the first time at the Syriac Christian church of Mar Tuma, an AFP correspondent reported.
It drew applause and ululations from the crowd, who took photos on mobile phones, before prayers were held.
“After seven years of silence, the bell of Mar Tuma rang for the first time on the right bank of Mosul,” Affas told them.
Daesh swept into Mosul and proclaimed it their “capital” in 2014, in an onslaught that forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in the northern Nineveh province to flee, some to Iraq’s nearby Kurdistan region.
The Iraqi army drove out the jihadists three years later after months of gruelling street fighting.
The return of the Mosul church bell “heralds days of hope, and opens the way, God willing, for the return of Christians to their city,” said Affas.
“This is a great day of joy, and I hope the joy will grow even more when not only all the churches and mosques in Mosul are rebuilt, but also the whole city, with its houses and historical sites,” he told AFP.
The bell weighing 285 kilogrammes (nearly 630 pounds) was cast in Lebanon with donations from Fraternity in Iraq, a French NGO that helps religious minorities, and transported from Beirut to Mosul by plane and truck.
The church of Mar Tuma, which dates back to the 19th century, was used by the jihadists as a prison or a court.
Restoration work is ongoing and its marble floor has been dismantled to be completely redone.
Nidaa Abdel Ahad, one of the faithful attending the inauguration, said she had returned to her home town from Irbil so that she could see the church being “brought back to life.”
“My joy is indescribable,” said the teacher in her forties. “It’s as if the heart of Christianity is beating again.”
Faraj-Benoit Camurat, founder and head of Fraternity in Iraq, said that “all the representations of the cross, all the Christian representations, were destroyed,” including marble altars.
“We hope this bell will be the symbol of a kind of rebirth in Mosul,” he told AFP by telephone.
Iraq’s Christian community, which numbered more than 1.5 million in 2003 before the US-led invasion, has shrunk to about 400,000, with many of them fleeing the recurrent violence that has ravaged the country.
Camurat said around 50 Christian families had resettled in Mosul, while others travel there to work for the day.
“The Christians could have left forever and abandoned Mosul,” but instead they being very active in the city, he said.


Tunisians protest over president's seizure of powers

Tunisians protest over president's seizure of powers
Updated 18 September 2021

Tunisians protest over president's seizure of powers

Tunisians protest over president's seizure of powers
  • The protesters gathered in the centre of the capital chanting "shut down the coup" and "we want a return to legitimacy"
  • The protest was the first since Saied declared on July 25 he was sacking the PM, assuming executive authority

TUNIS: Several hundred demonstrators gathered in Tunis on Saturday to protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers in July, which triggered a constitutional crisis and prompted accusations of a coup.
The protesters gathered in the centre of the capital chanting "shut down the coup" and "we want a return to legitimacy", while a few dozen Saied supporters held a counter demonstration chanting "the people want to dissolve parliament".
The protest, accompanied by a heavy police presence, was the first since Saied declared on July 25 he was sacking the prime minister, suspending parliament and assuming executive authority.
Saturday's protests may provide an indication of how the security services, many of whose leadership are newly appointed by Saied, will handle public opposition to him.
Police appeared to be treating both sets of protesters equally, standing between the two camps outside the ornate belle epoque theatre on Habib Bourguiba avenue.
Saied's moves were broadly popular in a country chafing from years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, but they have raised fears for the new rights and the democratic system won in the 2011 revolution that sparked the "Arab spring".
Though the biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, initially decried his move as a coup, it quickly backed down and the period since Saied's intervention has been calm.
However eight weeks on, Saied is still to appoint a prime minister or declare his longer-term intentions.
A Saied adviser told Reuters this month the president was considering suspending the 2014 constitution and putting a new version to a referendum, a possibility that unleashed the broadest and most vocal opposition to him since July 25.
Meanwhile, with their immunity lifted, some parliamentarians have been arrested, while numerous Tunisians have been stopped from leaving the country.
Saied has rejected accusations of a coup and his supporters have presented his moves as an opportunity to reset the gains of Tunisia's revolution and purge a corrupt elite.
"They are only here to ... protect corrupt people and Islamists," said Mohamed Slim, standing with his son in the counter protest. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by David Holmes)


‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says
Updated 18 September 2021

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says

‘Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change,’ water minister says
  • Mohamed Abdel-Aty said that climate change negatively impacts water resources, with resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water
  • The minister said that more than 1,500 structures had been implemented to guard against the dangers of torrential rain – protecting individuals and facilities

Mohamed Abdel-Aty, Egypt’s minister of water resources and irrigation, has said that his country is one of those most affected by climate change.

This is due to rising sea levels and the impact of climate change on the sources of the Nile River, and extreme weather phenomena such as heatwaves, cold waves and torrential rains impacting water resources, agriculture and the food, energy and health sectors, as well as coastal regions and northern lakes.

This is in addition to the risks affecting 12-15 percent of the most fertile lands of the delta as a result of the expected rise in sea level, and the intrusion of saline water, which affects the quality of groundwater.

Abdel-Aty said that climate change negatively impacts water resources, with resulting threats to sustainable development and the human right to water.

He was speaking during a meeting with Ayat Soliman, regional director of the Sustainable Development Department for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank Group, and her accompanying delegation. The meeting was to review a climate and development report on Egypt, which is being prepared by experts from the World Bank in cooperation with the Ministry of International Cooperation.

The minister said that more than 1,500 structures had been implemented to guard against the dangers of torrential rain and to protect individuals, facilities and key facilities from its destructive effects, in addition to harvesting rainwater for the use of Bedouin communities in the surrounding areas.

During the meeting, Abdel-Aty reviewed the efforts of the ministry in adapting to climate change through the implementation of several projects to guard against torrential rains, to protect Egyptian beaches, and expand the reuse of agricultural drainage water as one of the non-traditional water resources to meet increasing demand.

Egypt is implementing a number of major projects aimed at protecting its coast (covering about 3,000 km), securing individuals, facilities, public and private properties, roads and investments in coastal areas, working to stop the decline of the beach line and recovering beaches that have been lost due to erosion, and protecting agricultural lands and villages.

The country is also working on contributing to the development of fisheries in the northern lakes. The “Promoting Adaptation to Climate Changes in the North Coast and the Nile Delta” project has been launched with the aim of establishing protection systems, over a distance of 69 km, in five locations on the coast of the Nile River Delta, and the establishment of early warning stations at different depths within the Mediterranean to obtain data related to storm waves and sudden natural phenomena.


Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning
Updated 18 September 2021

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning

Algeria gives disgraced ex-leader Bouteflika 3-days mourning
  • Bouteflika, who had been ailing since a stroke in 2013, died Friday at 84
  • Bouteflika's 20-year-long rule, riddled with corruption, ended in disgrace as he was pushed from power amid huge street protests

ALGIERS: Algeria’s leader declared a three-day period of mourning starting Saturday for former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose 20-year-long rule, riddled with corruption, ended in disgrace as he was pushed from power amid huge street protests when he decided to seek a new term.
Bouteflika, who had been ailing since a stroke in 2013, died Friday at 84. His public appearances had been rare in the final years of his presidency, and he had not been seen since President Abdelmadjid Tebboune took office in late 2019.
Flags are to fly at half-staff during the mourning period, the president’s office said. The honors reflect Bouteflika’s role in Algeria’s brutal seven-year war for independence from France that ended in 1962. Those who fought are considered martyrs today.
The former president’s lawyer, Salim Salim Hadjouti, said Bouteflika was being laid to rest in an official ceremony at El Alia cemetery, in the section where martyrs of the revolution for independence are buried, a special honor.
Since Bouteflika’s death, public television has not shown images of him, a clear sign that authorities prefer not to go overboard with a farewell as the North African nation has turned past the Bouteflika era. Early on in his mandate, Tebboune announced his policy of a “new Algeria.”
Tebboune has led a fight against the corruption, including in the Bouteflika clan as it emerged that a close circle of officials around the president were enriching themselves and allegedly making decisions in the place of the ailing president. Bouteflika’s brother and special counsellor Said was acquitted in January by a military appeals court of allegedly plotting against the army and the state, but faces corruption charges.