Ukraine war compounds food-security woes of Middle East and North Africa

Special A combine harvesting picks up the wheat on a field near the Krasne village in the Chernihiv area, 120 km to the north from Kiev, on July 05, 2019. (Anatolii Stepanov / FAO / AFP)
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A combine harvesting picks up the wheat on a field near the Krasne village in the Chernihiv area, 120 km to the north from Kiev, on July 05, 2019. (Anatolii Stepanov / FAO / AFP)
Special Farmers bring in the harvest with their combine harvesters on a wheat field in the southern Russian Stavropol region. (AFP file photo)
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Farmers bring in the harvest with their combine harvesters on a wheat field in the southern Russian Stavropol region. (AFP file photo)
Special Workers prepare food aid to be distributed to Yemenis displaced by conflict in Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah on March 1, 2022. (Photo by Khaled Ziad / AFP)
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Workers prepare food aid to be distributed to Yemenis displaced by conflict in Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah on March 1, 2022. (Photo by Khaled Ziad / AFP)
Special  People queue up outside a bakery in Syria's northwestern city of Idlib on April 24, 2020. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)
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People queue up outside a bakery in Syria's northwestern city of Idlib on April 24, 2020. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)
Special A view of a building devastated in recent shelling by Russian forces in Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 3, 2022.(Sergey Bobok / AFP)
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A view of a building devastated in recent shelling by Russian forces in Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 3, 2022. (Sergey Bobok / AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2022

Ukraine war compounds food-security woes of Middle East and North Africa

Farmers bring in the harvest with their combine harvesters on a wheat field in the southern Russian Stavropol region. (AFP file photo)
  • Officials expect Russian invasion of Ukraine to have an inflationary impact on food, oil and shipping costs
  • MENA countries and aid agencies reliant on lower-cost Black Sea grain scramble to find alternative sources

DUBAI: When Russian tanks trundled into Ukraine on Feb. 24, alarm bells started ringing in places even far away from the war zone. It transpired that many countries depended heavily on the two warring parties for their wheat supplies, with Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa region figuring prominently on the list.

Which is partly why, for the governments of Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Sudan as well as international aid agencies, the conflict in Ukraine has felt much closer than what the geographical distance between the biggest consumers and the producers of Black Sea grain suggests.

Within days, the fighting had restricted the capacity of both Russia and Ukraine to continue exporting wheat to one of their biggest markets, which depends on the lower-priced Black Sea grain for a major source of its staple foods.

Ukraine has closed several of its ports and the movement of vessels in the Sea of Azov has been ordered to cease until further notice. The effect has been immediate.

MENA states that had already been experiencing food shortages owing to higher import costs, fiscal deficits, and conflict now face an added challenge. Any suspension or reduction of wheat supplies from Ukraine and Russia will deprive citizens of some of the world’s most food-insecure countries of the ability to produce bread and other daily essentials.

Besides being major players in such industries as computer chips, petroleum, wood, grains and sunflower oil, Russia and Ukraine together account for more than 14 percent of global wheat exports and a similar percentage of the world’s corn market.




A combine harvesting picks up the wheat on a field near the Krasne village in the Chernihiv area, north from Kiev, on July 05, 2019. (Anatolii Stepanov / FAO / AFP)

Russia is the world’s top wheat exporter and Ukraine the fourth, according to estimates by the US Department of Agriculture. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are also among the world’s leading fertilizer exporters.

Reuters has reported, quoting traders and bankers, that the war has halted shipping from Ukraine’s ports, while financial sanctions have put payments for purchases of Russian wheat in doubt, piling additional risk onto the shoulders of MENA governments.

“Everyone is looking for other markets as it is becoming increasingly impossible to buy stocks from Ukraine or Russia,” one Middle Eastern commodities banker said, citing shipping disruptions, new economic sanctions, and rising insurance premiums. “The market is not expecting Ukrainian and Russian exports to resume until the fighting ends.”




The sea port of Ukraine's Black Sea city of Odessa, where the country's grain supplies are shipped to foreign countries, has been closed because of the Russian invasion and grain supplies, threatening the food supplies of various countries. (Photo by Oleksandr Gimanov / AFP)

In Lebanon, officials expect wheat stocks to run out in a month. In Yemen, which imports 90 percent of its wheat, there is outright panic. Years of drought have created near famine conditions and left the bulk of Yemen’s population dependent on food aid. The situation has worsened since the 2014 Houthi takeover of the capital Sanaa.

Last year, Ukraine was the second-largest supplier of wheat to the UN’s World Food Program, with much of the aid going to Syria, where nine out of 10 of the country’s pre-war population are now on, or below, the poverty line, according to the UN.

David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said a lack of funding had forced the WFP to halve rations for 8 million civilians, with further sharp reductions to follow. “And just when you think that’s bad enough, we’ve got a war now in Ukraine,” he added in a video posted on the food organization’s website.

“We get 50 percent of our grains out of the Ukrainian and Russian area. It is going to have a dramatic impact on food, oil, and shipping costs. Just when you think it couldn’t get worse, it’s going to get worse. It’s a catastrophe on top of catastrophe here. It’s just heartbreaking.”




People displaced by conflict receive food aid to meet their basic needs at a camp in the Khokha district of Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah, on Jan. 14, 2022. (Khaled Ziad / AFP)

In Lebanon, images of an imminent food crisis were seared into the nation’s memory by the explosions that destroyed the port of Beirut in August 2020. While Lebanon has found a new storage site for imported wheat, it must now find new sources of wheat supplies.

Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam noted that Lebanon imported around 60 percent of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia, and said the government had opened talks with France, India, and the US with the aim of sourcing wheat from them instead, but at a higher cost.

FASTFACT

Ukraine has banned exports of rye, buckwheat, millet, barley, sugar, salts, meats until end of 2022.

“I couldn’t buy a croissant or a manoushe today,” Elio Alam, a resident of Beirut, told Arab News on Thursday, referring to a popular Lebanese street food. “I stopped at many shops, and all of them said they were not producing the products to save flour for making bread. But even bread is missing at several bakeries.”

Given the parlous state of Lebanon’s economy, the concerns are twofold: From where the government can now source supplies and how it can pay for them. “The actual Lebanese public finance situation is far from clear due to the total lack of professionalism in managing it. It is consequently impossible to determine if there are still resources within the state treasury,” Riad Saade, president of CREAL, an agricultural research center and consultancy company in Beirut, told Arab News.




People queue at a bakery in the neighborhood of Nabaa in Lebanon amidst a wave of shortages of basic items due to a severe economic crisis. (AFP file photo)

“Officials might still find ways to secure financing for wheat subsidies from other budget allocations. They will also seek donations, which will have political ramifications. The US and France might consider supporting the Lebanese population. The WFP might also have a role.

“The international market is open and accessible. It is a matter of financing the procurement and dealing with the price, which has risen because of the crisis. Australia and Kazakhstan can also be sources of supply.”

Saade, who did not rule out the possibility of bread riots and civil unrest, said: “We might have reached the situation where people will have no other choice but to revolt.”

In common with Lebanon, officials of other cash-strapped MENA governments have been scrambling to secure alternative grain supplies at affordable prices.

Syrian regime officials held an emergency meeting after the invasion began to take stock of national reserves of grain, sugar, cooking oil, and rice. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ministers are reportedly considering reducing prices of some basic goods in local markets and rationing oil for the next two months.




 People queue up outside a bakery in Syria's northwestern city of Idlib on April 24, 2020. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

On top of existing austerity measures, any cutbacks would pile more stress and financial strain on Syrians living in regime-controlled territories. As for those living in rebel-held or Kurdish-administered areas of the country, they depend heavily on cross-border trade with Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon, which have chronic supply issues of their own.

In rebel-held Idlib, one of the most food-deprived pockets of the Middle East, Omar Karim, a laborer and father of three, said his family was “already living on the brink of starvation every day.”

Having lived under Russian and Assad-regime bombardment for many years, Karim fears his family will soon suffer the ripple effect of another Russian war.

“Russia managed to stomp on us and is waging war inside and outside of Syria,” Karim told Arab News. “I don’t know how I’ll manage to keep feeding my family. What will we eat? Grass?”

Egypt, too, is sensing danger ahead. Analysts believe the war in Ukraine could pose a serious threat to the country’s economy, with the price of wheat rising almost 50 percent in recent days.




People displaced by conflict receive food aid to meet their basic needs at a camp in the Khokha district of Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeidah, on Jan. 14, 2022. (Khaled Ziad / AFP)

Michael Tanchum, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, said: “Egypt already needs to find alternative suppliers. A further escalation that stops all Black Sea exports could also take Russian supplies off the market with catastrophic effect.”

Egypt imports the most wheat in the world and is Russia’s second-largest customer. It bought 3.5 million tons in mid-January, according to S&P Global. The Arab world’s most populous country has started to buy elsewhere, particularly from Romania, but 80 percent of its imports have come from Russia and Ukraine.

“With about four months of wheat reserves, Egypt can meet the challenge. But, to do so, Cairo will need to take immediate and decisive action, which can be made even more effective with the timely support of its American and European partners,” Tanchum added.




Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, buys 80 percent of its imports from Russia and Ukraine. (AFP file photo)

The war in Ukraine is also threatening to raise the cost of cooking oils in the MENA region and Turkey. A holdup of imports from Russia and Ukraine has sparked panic buying of sunflower oil in Turkey, despite government assurances concerning availability of basic items.

Ships carrying vegetable oil from Russia, which provides 55 percent of Turkey’s import needs, and Ukraine, which provides 15 percent, have been held up in the Sea of Azov. Concerns are likely to mount if the war affects this year’s harvest in Ukraine and if sanctions on Russia disrupt payments.

Amid the turmoil and chaos of the past two decades, the threat to food availability in the Middle East rarely reached alarming proportions. No matter how great the disruption, officials always found a way to keep the supply of staple foods flowing. The Ukraine crisis, which has plunged the world’s breadbasket into war, feels different in comparison. — with inputs from Reuters and AFP


Powerful earthquake strikes southern Turkiye, at least 10 reported killed

Powerful earthquake strikes southern Turkiye, at least 10 reported killed
Updated 2 min 15 sec ago

Powerful earthquake strikes southern Turkiye, at least 10 reported killed

Powerful earthquake strikes southern Turkiye, at least 10 reported killed
  • Temblor felt in neighboring countries, particularly in Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria and Jordan

RIYADH/ANKARA: A 7.8 magnitude quake knocked down multiple buildings in Turkiye and Syria early Monday and officials warned of many casualties.

At least 10 deaths have been confirmed in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, according to Gov. Salih Ayhan.

In northwest Syria, the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the rebel-held region as “disastrous” adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble. The civil defense urged people to evacuate buildings to gather in open areas.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake was centered about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital. It was centered 18 kilometers (11 miles) deep, and a strong 6.7 aftershock rumbled about 10 minutes later.

Turkiye’s Disaster and Emergency Management agency, AFAD, said the quake measured 7.4 and was centered in the town of Pazarcik, in Kahramanmaras province.

The German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) measured the quake at Magnitude 7.7, with a shallow depth of 10 kilometers.

Several buildings tumbled down in the neighboring provinces of Malatya, Diyarbakir and Malatya, HaberTurk television reported. 

Syria’s state media reported that some buildings collapsed in the northern city of Aleppo and the central city of Hama.

In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear.

The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.

The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.

Turkiye's disaster management agency, AFAD, measured the quake at magnitude 7.4.

USGS reported another shallow 6.7-magnitude quake occurring near the site of the first about 15 minutes after.

The southern region of Gaziantep — one of Turkiye’s key industrial and manufacturing hubs — borders Syria. 

Turkish authorities have not yet reported any deaths or injuries, but videos posted on social networks showed destroyed buildings in several cities in the southeast of the country.

Netizens from as far as Jerusalem and Beirut talked of being awakened by the strong shaking.

"I live in Gaziantep, Türkiye.  Was sleeping when it started. Absolutely terrifying," Nasip (@iam_nasib) commented on a video posted on Twitter.

"Felt it in Jerusalem," said Amy di Nardò (@amybellabella).

Sagittarius (@JRsagittarius) said he was in Beirut and the experienced "was terrifying."

Karolingston (@karolingston) of Cyprus said he was awakened because "My bed was shaking."

"Felt it in Lebanon. It was a hell of a feeling!" chimed in CharbelRahmé (@charbelrahm_e)

Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Duzce was one of the regions hit by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999 — the worst to hit Turkiye in decades.

That quake killed more than 17,000 people, including about 1,000 in Istanbul.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.

A magnitude-6.8 quake hit Elazig in January 2020, killing more than 40 people.

And in October that year, a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 114 people and wounding more than 1,000.

(With agencies)

 

 


Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
  • Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Western missions would “pay” for issuing security warnings and temporarily closing consulates in Turkiye last week, while police said there was no serious threat to foreigners after detaining 15 Daesh suspects on Sunday.
Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries on Thursday to criticize their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts. Turkish officials said the following day that Western nations, including the United States and Germany, had not shared information to back up their claims of a security threat.
“The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them ‘You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up,’” Erdogan said during a meeting with youth that was pre-recorded and broadcast on Sunday.
Alongside the closures, several Western states warned citizens of a heightened risk of attacks to diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship in Turkiye, following a series of far-right protests in Europe in recent weeks that included several incidents of burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned.
Erdogan said that the Western states were “playing for (more) time” and that the “necessary decisions” would be taken during Monday’s cabinet meeting, without elaborating.
’NO CONCRETE THREATS’
Earlier on Sunday, police said they had not found evidence of any concrete threat to foreigners in the detentions of 15 Daesh suspects accused of targeting consulates and non-Muslim houses of worship, state media reported.
Anadolu Agency cited an Istanbul police statement saying the suspects had “received instructions for acts targeting consulates of Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Christian and Jewish places of worship.”
While the suspects’ ties to the jihadist group were confirmed, no concrete threats toward foreigners were found, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated on Saturday Turkiye’s frustration with what it says is Sweden’s inaction toward entities that Ankara accuses of terrorist activity. All 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO bids, with the Nordic states pledging to take a harder line primarily against local members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
 

 


Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
Updated 05 February 2023

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
  • Calls grow for deeper investigation into motivations and protection of youngsters amid shock and despair

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Security services of the southern Yemeni city of Taiz said that two children committed suicide in two separate events on Saturday, leaving the beleaguered population in shock and despair.

Police in Taiz said in a statement that they were notified of two suicide victims in the city on Saturday evening, citing the deaths as “dangerous precedents.”

Police named the first child as 12-year-old Kareem Abdul Kareem from the Al-Jamhuria neighborhood, who hanged himself inside his room on Saturday afternoon by tying a scarf around his neck.

Ammar Khaled, a 16-year-old who committed suicide on Saturday evening by wrapping a rope around his neck and tying it to a door outside his family’s home, is the second victim. 

After forensic investigators gathered photographs and evidence, his family requested his burial on the same day. 

Police in Taiz pledged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims and have asked the community and professionals for assistance in determining the reasons behind the suicides.

In a statement, police urged both authorities and members of the public “to collaborate…in order to provide the appropriate answers.”

Mohammed Alawi, an investigator with police in Taiz, told Arab News that a team, including social and psychiatric professionals, was looking into the cases and would release their findings this week.

Initially, Alawi ruled out the possibility of cyberbullying or even sexual harassment and attributed the deaths of the two children to the mobile game PUBG. 

“These are risky games, and we advise parents to monitor their children’s mobile devices to see what they are seeing or playing,” Alawi said.

He also touched on other instances of suicide, which he blamed on psychological suffering caused by the war.

“Women and children in Yemen, particularly in besieged Taiz, have suffered emotionally because of the war. We had never seen such crimes before the war,” he said.  

On social media, the police statement and photographs of the two deceased children have elicited condolences for the families and calls for an investigation into the motivations behind the suicides and for the protection of children.

“You should investigate with the family about the electronic games they played, such as PUBG, and whether they have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts,” said Adnan Taha on Facebook.

“All communications should be reviewed, since (the children) may be vulnerable to harassment and extortion,” Taha said.

Another social media user, Muneir Al-Qaisi, urged local security agencies not to bury the victims before autopsies are conducted to determine whether they consumed anything poisonous.

“We hope you will not hurry to bury them and (will) examine their bodies,” Al-Qaisi said. 

“It is conceivable that the parents are unaware of beverages or meals being shared among the children,” said Al-Qaisi.

Investigator Alawi responded to accusations of a hasty burial by stating that one of the boys was buried at the request of his family and only after investigators examined both the corpse and the scene.

“He was buried after forensic teams examined the scene, photographed it, and performed investigations. Additionally, his relatives requested burial from the prosecution,” Alawi said.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”


Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
Updated 05 February 2023

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges

Egypt cancels World Youth Forum in light of global challenges
  • Budget for event will instead be used to fund development initiatives
  • Event was set to start later this month

CAIRO: In response to a host of global economic challenges, this year’s World Youth Forum, which was set to start later this month, has been canceled, its organizers said on Saturday.

Instead, the budget for the event, which was to be held in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, will be used to fund the implementation of five development initiatives aimed at young people in Egypt and beyond.

This year would have marked the fifth edition of the forum, with the fourth being held in January last year. The event is organized by the Presidential Program for Qualifying Youth for Leadership.

It said the decision to cancel this year's conference was an acknowledgment of the multiple crises facing the world that have put huge humanitarian and economic pressures on nations and governments.

Among the beneficiaries of the redirected funding is a series of international exchange programs for young people. These will be arranged in cooperation with the Decent Life Foundation, National Alliance for Civil Development Action, Arab Union for Volunteering and UN Volunteers Program.

Parliamentary Counselor Issam Hilal Afifi told Arab News that the proceeds from the sponsorship rights to this year’s forum would be redirected toward a large package of initiatives.

Dr. Muhammad Mahmoud Mahran, secretary-general of the International Committee for the Defense of Water Resources, said the move would also enable recommendations made at the previous forum to be implemented.

The planned initiatives would have a positive impact at the local, African and global level, he said.