Lebanon’s wheat crisis worsened by funding delays

Special Lebanon’s wheat crisis worsened by funding delays
Lebanese President Michel Aoun heads a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 30, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 March 2022

Lebanon’s wheat crisis worsened by funding delays

Lebanon’s wheat crisis worsened by funding delays
  • Slow administrative processes stymieing efforts to buy grain as prices soar, official says
  • But agriculture minister dismisses claims the country is facing a crisis

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s wheat crisis is being exacerbated by bureaucracy, as the price of the grain continues to soar, according to a senior official.

More than two weeks ago, the Cabinet granted the General Directorate of Grains and Sugar Beets an advance of 36 billion Lebanese pounds ($1.6 million) to buy 50,000 tons of wheat, which would have been sufficient to meet the country’s needs for a month. But the advance was never received as a decree was not issued.

“Since no decree was issued to allow the directorate to ask the central bank to convert the 36 billion Lebanese pounds into dollars, the minister of economy resorted to requesting exceptional approval from the Cabinet, which convened on Wednesday to obtain an additional amount,” Georges Berbari, the general director of grains and sugar beets, said.

“The administrative measures for the process of buying wheat take a long time. Meanwhile, international prices are rising. The amount allocated two weeks ago is no longer sufficient to purchase 50,000 tons of wheat,” he said.

“The situation is very stressful amid the decreasing wheat stocks. The important thing is to get any amount quickly, even if it will only secure 30,000 or 40,000 tons of wheat.”

Ahmad Hoteit, the president of the Association of Mills in Lebanon, said: “The Ukrainian crisis has begun to have repercussions on Lebanon. Wheat shipments may arrive next week at higher prices, and given the high demand, the country that pays more gets the wheat. We asked Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the central bank not to delay securing the credits.”

Lebanon consumes about 600,000 tons of wheat a year, of which 80 percent is imported from countries like Ukraine and Russia. But it is facing a severe financial crisis, prompting the state to gradually lift subsidies on dozens of vital materials, including fuel, medicine and flour.

Despite the problems, Agriculture Minister Abbas Hajj Hassan dismisses claims the country is facing a wheat crisis.

“The minister of economy has communicated with the U.S., Canada, Australia, India and other markets to import wheat from them,” he said.

“We are waiting for the central bank to open credits, and the ministry’s agricultural research department has warehouses ready for storage.”

The silos at Beirut port were traditionally used to hold Lebanon’s wheat and grain stocks but they were destroyed by an explosion in August 2020. As an alternative storage facility has yet to be found, imported wheat is now transferred directly from the port to mills.

Hoteit said he expected the price of a bundle of bread to rise in line with the increase in the cost of imported wheat and in the event that subsidies on flour were completely lifted.

The bread crisis is one of many being faced by the Lebanese people amid a financial collapse and lack of social protection. Even the planned Capital Control law, which is supposed to protect what is left of citizens’ money in banks, has become subject to a political tug-of-war.

Parliamentary committees removed the legislation from the agenda on Tuesday after numerous MPs rejected the draft.

Meanwhile, an International Monetary Fund delegation headed by Ernesto Ramirez, the IMF head of mission for Pakistan, the Middle East and Central Asia, is currently in Beirut waiting to complete negotiations with Lebanon.

“We hope that a preliminary deal will be reached after two weeks of discussions,” Deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami, who heads Lebanon’s delegation to the IMF, told AFP.

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite
Updated 30 September 2022

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite

Lebanon schools struggle to open as finance woes bite
  • Student dropout rate rising with parents unable to pay for basics, UNICEF rep warns

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public education system is facing collapse a week before the start of the academic year, with teachers unable to pay for transport, and students dropping out because their parents cannot afford essential school items.

After three years of an economic crisis that shows no sign of ending, schools are also struggling to provide basic needs, such as heating and electricity.

An adviser to Abbas Halabi, the minister of education and higher education in the caretaker government, told Arab News that meetings are being held with donor countries, international organizations, the World Bank and ambassadors in an effort to cover the costs of teachers’ transport to school.

Assistance to help students attend school has not yet been discussed, the official said.

Lebanon’s spiralling economy has forced thousands of parents to transfer their children from private schools and universities to public institutions.

Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF representative in Lebanon, warned of an increase in the number of students dropping out of school.

Estimates suggest that up to 16 percent of Lebanese children and 49 percent of Syrian refugee students have not been enrolled in primary school, despite education ministry efforts to encourage a return to study.

Parents blame the country’s financial woes for the problem, saying they cannot afford their children’s transport fees, books or stationery.

Halabi warned from New York during an education summit held on the sidelines of the UN’s General Assembly 10 days ago that “if Lebanese students do not receive education, no others will.”

He had previously pleaded with donors to “secure aid that will enable the ministry to launch the school year, which seems impossible in light of the educational bodies refusing to show up at public schools and the Lebanese University.” 

Lebanon is seeking aid of around $100 million for pre-university education, $37 million for the Lebanese University and $20 million for vocational education.

In addition to implementing a host of economic and political reforms, the international community has asked Lebanon to integrate Syrian and Lebanese students in morning and afternoon periods in order to reduce expenses.

Private schools and universities demanded payment of tuition fees partly in Lebanese pounds and partly in dollars.

However, the education ministry opposed the move, claiming it breached laws that stipulates the use of Lebanese currency.

Education institutions ignored the objection, claiming the only alternative would be to close, and established a “parents’ contribution fund” separate from the budget.

Parents who were unable to pay the tuition fees were left with the option of transferring their children from private schools or universities to public institutions.

Huda Suleiman, president of the Human and Future Association for children with special needs, said that she will be unable to open the school in Taanayel in the Bekaa Valley this year because the Ministry of Social Affairs, which “provides us aid, did not pay what it owes us.”

A limit on monthly bank withdrawals means she can pay only two teaching salaries.

“We have physical, motor and occupational specialists whose salaries are high, in addition to fuel costs,” she said.

Suleiman said parents were unable to contribute or even drop their children at school, as some traveled long distances.

Transport costs are beyond the salaries of most parents, many of whom are farmers or members of the military and internal security forces, she added.

The education ministry has yet to solve a dispute with education bodies demanding a salary increase and further financial incentives.

According to a study by the Center for Educational Research and Development, the number of students in Lebanon exceeded 1 million two years ago.

They include 334,536 students or 31 percent in public schools, 565,593 students or 52 percent in private schools, and 140,312 students or 13 percent in private free schools.

There are 36,375 students, or more than 3 percent, at UNRWA schools for Palestinian refugees.

Lebanon is home to 40 universities and institutes, and more than 40 percent of tertiary students attend the Lebanese University, a public institution.


Senior IRGC commander shot dead in clashes with anti-regime gunmen

Senior IRGC commander shot dead in clashes with anti-regime gunmen
Updated 30 September 2022

Senior IRGC commander shot dead in clashes with anti-regime gunmen

Senior IRGC commander shot dead in clashes with anti-regime gunmen
  • Ali Mousavi was a leading figure of the IRGC in the Sistan-Baluchestan province
  • At least 76 people have been killed in Tehran’s violent crackdown on protesters

LONDON: A senior commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was shot dead on Friday during clashes with anti-regime gunman, according to state media.

Ali Mousavi, who was a leading figure of the IRGC in the Sistan-Baluchestan province, was killed in the south-eastern city of Zahedan, Tasnim news agency reported.

State media also reported a shootout broke out at a police station in the city earlier in the day, amid ongoing anti-government protests following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini earlier this month.

She died in custody after being arrested by Iran’s morality police.

At least 76 people have been killed in Tehran’s violent crackdown on protesters, while anti-regime demonstrations have broken out in cities around the world.

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20,000 children enrolled in 226 centers marks milestone for Dubai’s early childhood education

20,000 children enrolled in 226 centers marks milestone for Dubai’s early childhood education
Updated 30 September 2022

20,000 children enrolled in 226 centers marks milestone for Dubai’s early childhood education

20,000 children enrolled in 226 centers marks milestone for Dubai’s early childhood education
  • Pre-schoolers are supported by more than 1,300 teachers
  • “Dubai is a future-focused city, and its future lies in cultivating our children’s wellbeing,” says education authority director-general

DUBAI: More than 20,000 children, aged between 45 days and six years, of 58 different nationalities, are now enrolled in 226 early childhood centers across Dubai.
Emphasizing Dubai’s cultural diversity and vibrant education ecosystem, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority — KHDA — reported on Friday that pre-schoolers are supported by more than 1,300 teachers and 1,900 teaching assistants at early childhood centers — ECCs — across the emirate, the Emirates News Agency said.
KHDA’s Milestones report offers in-depth statistics and details of Dubai’s private early childhood education and care sector for the first time.
“Dubai is a future-focused city, and its future lies in cultivating our children’s wellbeing, their sense of wonder and their love of learning,” said Dr. Abdulla Al-Karam, director-general of KHDA.
Everyone benefits when parents in Dubai have access to high-quality education for their children, he said.
“ECCs benefit from enrolment growth; parents benefit from the peace of mind that their children are being cared for and nurtured; and children benefit from learning and playing in a positive and supportive environment,” Al-Karam said.
Parents of young children can choose from 13 different early childhood curricula currently offered by Dubai’s ECCs, WAM reported.
Most ECCs offer the Early Years Foundation Stages curriculum, while other options include Montessori, IPC, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and several other curricula.
Parents can search for early childhood centers on the KHDA’s digital directory, available through the education regulator’s website and app.
Al-Karam said: “We want to build a quality-driven and diverse early childhood education and care sector to encourage even more parents to give their children a happy and beneficial learning experience.”
Data showed that 70 percent of children enrolled in Dubai’s private early childhood centers were in the 2-4 age group.

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests
Updated 30 September 2022

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests

Iran says it has arrested 9 foreigners over protests
  • Iran has claimed that the daily protests that have swept the country for the past two weeks were instigated by foreigners
  • Earlier in June, Iran arrested two French citizens for meeting protesting teachers

DUBAI: Iran’s intelligence ministry says it has arrested nine foreigners over recent anti-hijab protests sweeping the country.
In a statement carried by the state-run news agency IRNA, the ministry said Friday that those arrested included citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely, has triggered an outpouring of anger at Iran’s ruling clerics.
Her family says they were told she was beaten to death in custody. Police say the 22-year-old Amini died of a heart attack and deny mistreating her, and Iranian officials say her death is under investigation.
Iran has claimed that the daily protests that have swept the country for the past two weeks were instigated by foreigners. Protesters have denied such claims, portraying their actions as a spontaneous uprising against the country’s strict dress code, including the compulsory hijab for women in public.
Iran has detained individual foreigners in the past, often on claims that they were spies while not providing evidence. Critics have denounced the practice as an attempt by Iran to use detained foreigners as bargaining chips for concessions from the international community.
Earlier in June, Iran arrested two French citizens, Cecile Kohler, 37, and Chuck Paris, 69 over meeting with protesting teachers and taking part in an anti-government rally.
A number of Europeans were detained in Iran in recent months, including a Swedish tourist, two French citizens, a Polish scientist and others.
The arrests come as leaked government documents show that Iran ordered its security forces to “severely confront” antigovernment demonstrations that broke out earlier this month, Amnesty International said Friday.
The London-based rights group said security forces have killed at least 52 people since protests over the Amini’s death began nearly two weeks ago, including by firing live ammunition into crowds and beating protesters with batons.
It says security forces have also beaten and groped female protesters who remove their headscarves to protest the treatment of women by Iran’s theocracy.
The state-run IRNA news agency meanwhile reported renewed violence in the city of Zahedan, near the borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It said gunmen opened fire and hurled firebombs at a police station, setting off a battle with police.
It said police and passersby were wounded, without elaborating, and did not say whether the violence was related to the antigovernment protests. The region has seen previous attacks on security forces claimed by militant and separatist groups.
Videos circulating on social media showed gunfire and a police vehicle on fire. Others showed crowds chanting against the government. Video from elsewhere in Iran showed protests in Ahvaz, in the southwest, and Ardabil in the northwest.
Amnesty said it obtained a leaked copy of an official document saying that the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces ordered commanders on Sept. 21 to “severely confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries.” The rights group says the use of lethal force escalated later that evening, with at least 34 people killed that night alone.
It said another leaked document shows that, two days later, the commander in Mazandran province ordered security forces to “confront mercilessly, going as far as causing deaths, any unrest by rioters and anti-Revolutionaries,” referring to those opposed to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which brought the clerics to power.
“The Iranian authorities knowingly decided to harm or kill people who took to the streets to express their anger at decades of repression and injustice,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Amid an epidemic of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in Iran, dozens of men, women and children have been unlawfully killed in the latest round of bloodshed.”
Amnesty did not say how it acquired the documents. There was no immediate comment from Iranian authorities.
Iranian state TV has reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday that at least 28 reporters have been arrested.
Iranian authorities have severely restricted Internet access and blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp, popular social media applications that are also used by the protesters to organize and share information.
That makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the protests, particularly outside the capital, Tehran. Iranian media have only sporadically covered the demonstrations.
Iranians have long used virtual private networks and proxies to get around the government’s Internet restrictions. Shervin Hajjipour, an amateur singer in Iran, recently posted a song on Instagram based on tweets about Amini that received more than 40 million views in less than 48 hours before it was taken down.
Non-governmental Iran Human rights Organization said that Hajjipour has reportedly been arrested.

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch
Updated 30 September 2022

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch
  • Regime ‘should repeal discriminatory laws and policies against women’: Researcher
  • Nationwide demonstrations followed death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22

LONDON: Nationwide protests in Iran following the death of a woman in custody could topple the country’s so-called morality police, Human Rights Watch has said.

Rothna Begum, senior researcher at HRW’s women’s rights division, told The Independent that the morality police “could have their powers removed” after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for an alleged infringement of Iran’s hijab rules.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting these protests. Iran should abolish the morality police, compulsory hijab laws and repeal discriminatory laws and policies against women,” Begum said.

“While women have campaigned on a range of issues and have protested against a number of discriminatory laws and policies against women, with many sentenced to prison, this time we are seeing men and women, regular people and such protests are taking place all over Iran.”

Protests have erupted in over 80 cities and towns across the country with women at the forefront, waving hijabs, hurling them in bonfires and chopping off their hair.

The demonstrations are the largest in Iran since the pandemic. To date, some 1,200 protesters have been arrested after demanding the ousting of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and chanting “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the dictator.”