Ukraine war serves as wake-up call for food-import dependent Middle East

Special The Ukrainian conflict’s disruption of the distribution of grain is hitting the price of staples such as bread. (AFP)
The Ukrainian conflict’s disruption of the distribution of grain is hitting the price of staples such as bread. (AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2022

Ukraine war serves as wake-up call for food-import dependent Middle East

The Ukrainian conflict’s disruption of the distribution of grain is hitting the price of staples such as bread. (AFP)
  • Soaring prices of food, fertilizer and fuel pose imminent threat to vulnerable communities across MENA region
  • Public finances of many countries were in bad shape owing to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts 

DUBAI: As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its second month, having triggered the biggest surge in food prices since the recession of 2008, the World Food Program warned that the world’s hungry simply “cannot afford another conflict.” It was no exaggeration. 

Soaring prices of food, fertilizer and fuel pose a clear and imminent threat to vulnerable communities and hunger hotspots across the Middle East and North Africa. Entire populations are feeling the adverse effects of a war being fought thousands of miles away from the region. 

“The consequences of the conflict in Ukraine are radiating outwards, triggering a wave of collateral hunger that is spreading across the globe,” Reem Nada, a spokesperson for WFP MENA, told Arab News. 

Given that Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine the world’s fifth, disruption to the distribution of grain is having a significant impact on the price of staples such as bread on a global scale. 

Combined, Russia and Ukraine account for more than half of the world’s sunflower seed oil exports as well as 19 percent of the world’s barley supply, 14 percent of wheat and 4 percent of maize, making up nearly a third of global cereal exports. 

Nada said that Yemen, Egypt and Lebanon — three countries that were already reeling from the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts and structural imbalances — are especially vulnerable to the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine. 

In the war zone itself, the collapse of Ukraine’s food supply chains has led to shortages in major cities, including the capital Kyiv. Long known as “Europe’s breadbasket,” the country is likely to miss critical planting and harvesting seasons this year, compounding the crisis. 




Soaring food prices pose a threat to vulnerable communities across the Middle East and North Africa. (AFP)

At the same time, Western sanctions imposed on Russia, a major exporter of fertilizers including potash, ammonia, urea and other soil nutrients, means farmers are scaling back production or anticipating reduced yields. 

As a result, the price of wheat has shot up by 21 percent, barley by 33 percent, and some fertilizers by 40 percent in the last month alone. 

“Russia and Ukraine are the largest suppliers of wheat to the Middle East,” Kerry Anderson, a political and business risk consultant, told Arab News. 

“Egypt is particularly dependent on imports from the two countries, and the spike in bread prices came as the government there was planning to reduce bread subsidies.” 

FASTFACT

* Percentage of wheat imports from Ukraine:

- Lebanon: 50 percent

- Tunisia: 42 percent

- Yemen: 22 percent

(Source: WFP)

More than 70 million Egyptians rely on subsidized bread, according to the WFP. In 2021, roughly 80 percent of the country’s wheat imports came from Russia and Ukraine. 

“Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen also are all vulnerable to supply disruptions from Russia and Ukraine and increased prices,” Anderson said. 

Yemen depends almost entirely on food imports, and Ukraine accounted for 31 percent of its wheat supplies during the past three months. 

Currently, 31,000 people in Yemen are experiencing famine-like conditions, a number that is expected to soar to 161,000 by June of this year, according to the latest figures from the Integrated Food Phase Classification scale. By the end of the year, 7.3 million people in the war-ravaged country could be at “emergency levels of hunger.” 




The consequences of the conflict in Ukraine are radiating outwards, triggering a wave of collateral hunger that is spreading across the globe, according to WFP's Reem Nada. (AFP)

“The economic crisis in Yemen — a by-product of the civil conflict — and the depreciation of the currency have already pushed food prices in 2021 to their highest levels since 2015,” Nada said. “The Ukraine crisis is another blow to Yemen, driving food and fuel prices further up.” 

The result is an increase in the number of people in need of food assistance from 16.2 million to 17.4 million. Aid agencies warn this number could rise further if funding gaps are not plugged, as the cost of delivering assistance is also rising. 

Currently, the WFP has just 31 percent of the funding it needs to continue operations in Yemen over the next six months. “The Ukraine crisis is making a bad funding situation worse,” Nada said. 

The situation is similar in Lebanon, which imports about 80 percent of its wheat from Ukraine. Even before the outbreak of war, food prices in Lebanon had risen by nearly 1,000 percent since October 2019, a result of the country’s economic and financial crises, compounded by the Beirut port blast of August 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The war in Ukraine further exacerbates the suffering of millions because of the ongoing economic crisis where more than 80 percent of the population has been plunged into poverty and are in the middle of a humanitarian catastrophe created by a financial meltdown,” Nada told Arab News. 




Given that Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine the world’s fifth, disruption to the distribution of grain is having a significant impact on the price of food staples. (AFP/File Photo)

With a lengthening list of Arab countries in dire need of food assistance, experts in the field of sustainability are searching for innovative solutions to help the region grow and manage its own crops with fewer resources.

“Food security is not just about raising a few vegetables but a range of cash crops which can grow and be sustained in the region, putting less of a burden on imports,” Chandra Dake, CEO of the UAE-based agri-tech company Dake Rechsand, told Arab News.

To ease the region’s heavy reliance on imports, Dake believes his “magic sand” technology could help farmers transform desert into arable land capable of growing a variety of fruits, vegetables and even water-intensive crops such as rice. 

“We now have 28 types of fruit tree that we have grown in the country, which were never grown on a commercial scale,” said Dake of his company’s recent developments in the UAE. “This is something that can help with food security.” 

In the arid Middle East and North Africa, food security is inextricably tied to water security. Poor water conservation and unsustainable farming practices, combined with the creeping effects of climate change, have depleted the region’s natural aquifers and degraded soil quality. 

“The war in Ukraine erupted at a time when a drought in North Africa was already undermining wheat production there,” Anderson said. 

Speaking to Arab News, Omar Saif, a sustainability consultant at WSP Middle East, cautioned that food security in the Arab region could be further undermined by dwindling water resources. “The common denominator flowing throughout this is water; more importantly the availability of reliable and sustainable freshwater sources,” he said.

Nevertheless, there are ways to streamline water management — through targeted distribution and tariff reform, for instance — that regional governments can take to enhance food security, he said. 

INNUMBERS

* 8% - Rise in food prices witnessed in Iraq within 2 weeks of Ukraine invasion.

* 2/3 - Proportion of people in Yemen who need food assistance simply to survive.

* 12.4m - People in Syria who are deemed food insecure.

(Source: WFP)

“Agricultural policies and fiscal support for farmers could also help alleviate strains on food systems through training, education on optimum crop selection, as well as bans on the production of water-intensive crops with low yield and low returns,” Saif told Arab News. 

“It is not about maximizing profit per kilogram of production but providing some level of localized food production for local needs in an environment that is incredibly water-scarce, lacks arable land, and experiences vast seasonal variations in extreme temperature.” 

For the GCC countries, the challenge going forward will be to “maximize nutrition per kilogram of production, with as little water input as possible.”

Elsewhere in the Middle East, however, the food situation is likely to remain precarious. “WFP’s meager resources for operations, in Yemen and Syria especially, will be under even more pressure than before,” Nada told Arab News. 

“We are doing everything possible to mobilize world attention and support — through governments, the private sector and individuals — to avoid the need for drastic action later.”


Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation

Egyptian parliament looking to activate law for organ, cornea transplantation
  • The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days
  • MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law

CAIRO: A debate has been underway within the Egyptian parliament over amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
The parliament has not taken a decision yet despite its discussion over the past few days.
The amendments focus on the activation of two laws: one issued in 2010 banning organ sales, which has not yet been fully implemented due to the revolution in 2011, and one issued in 1962 regarding the organization of the eye bank.
The Health Affairs Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives recommended that the Ministry of Health activate the provisions of the Human Organ Transplant Law passed in 2010 in which Article 8 of its executive regulations allows people to request in their wills that their organs be donated following their death.
MP Makram Radwan sparked controversy in parliament when he submitted a request for a briefing on the amendment to the Human Organ Transplant Law.
“Egypt has fallen behind many countries that have implemented the law,” Radwan told Arab News.
“Although we have an organ transplant law, it has not been activated. There can be no organ transfer without prior approval to protect doctors.”
As for the law regarding the eye bank, the matter was raised at the request of Representative Karim Badr Helmy.
Badr told Arab News: “I am not calling for something new. This was within the provisions of the 1962 law regulating eye banks.”
Helmy demanded that all cornea banks be re-operated in hospitals licensed to establish them.
He also proposed that the health minister issue a decision to set procedures for transferring the corneas of the dead to university hospitals and other hospitals of the ministry that are licensed to establish banks to preserve them.
Dr. Khaled Omran, one of the fatwa trustees at the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa, told Arab News that organ donation is highly beneficial, helping many patients, and is considered of a form of charity.
Omran said that a donation takes place in accordance with conditions set by the law and approved by Dar Al-Iftaa.
The first is that the patient must be legally, and not just clinically, dead
The second is that the donation must be based on a person’s will documented by doctors.
The third condition is that the donation of organs related to the reproductive system must be prevented in order to avoid any suspicion of mixing lineage.


Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt turns to religious edicts to protect children from harmful video games

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Apps can stimulate minds but also cause addiction, incite violence, Dar Al-Iftaa official says
  • Some games are used by extremist groups like Daesh to exploit young people, he says

CAIRO: One of Egypt’s top Islamic organizations, Dar Al-Iftaa, is trying to raise awareness of the potentially harmful impact of mobile games and apps on young people.

A recent report by the Global Fatwa Index showed that 33 percent of the fatwas on technological affairs issued this year were related to the subject and that many of them stressed the need to protect children from exploitation and violent or other harmful content.

“Video games and modern applications are a double-edged sword,” Sheikh Awaida Othman from Dar Al-Iftaa, the Egyptian government’s principal Islamic legal institution for issuing fatwas, told Arab News.

“Despite their ability to develop minds, they come with many disadvantages, most notably mobile addiction, spreading violence, social isolation, and the incidence of unrest and psychological disorders.

“The latest preemptive fatwas of the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa dealt with the issue of buying and selling currencies in video games because it is legally permissible, but with controls that must be taken into account … the game should not become a daily habit that devolves into an addiction that causes health and psychological issues and mental exhaustion.”

Echoing a finding in the fatwa index that suggested some apps could be used for political exploitation, Othman said ultra-right movements in the West relied on video games to recruit and exploit children and adolescents.

He added that in some online games users were able to create secret networks and chat without surveillance, just as members of extremist organizations like Daesh did.

The most prominent of these was Fortnite — one of the world’s most popular fighting games — as it incited violence, he said.

“ISIS (another name for Daesh) adopts the same terrorist strategy and ideology by exploiting video game platforms to recruit young men and minors, and using hidden channels of communication to ensure anonymity,” Othman said.

Sheikh Sayed Abdulaziz, secretary-general of Egyptian Family House — an initiative started in 2011 that promotes religious coexistence — said that religious institutions, families and educational and media groups needed to work together and heed the warnings about video games.

“The steady and intensive increase in video games and phone applications is difficult to monitor and therefore requires religious institutions to dedicate people to follow up on these developments and issue proactive fatwas regarding them,” he told Arab News.

“The lack of fatwas related to video games directly reaching the youth and children category requires work in parallel with religious bodies, the media, schools and universities.”

He added: “We must also pay attention to following up on new apps and making sure that they are following public morals in order to prevent the spread of material among youths that is religiously or nationally inappropriate.”

 


Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
Updated 26 November 2022

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation

Egypt slams European Parliament report on human rights situation
  • Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs

CAIRO: Egyptian MPs and politicians have rejected what they are calling the European Parliament’s “blatant” interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the European Parliament called for the immediate and unconditional release of dozens of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, activists, politicians and social media influencers currently sitting in Egyptian prisons and for the reversal of the excessive use of arbitrary pre-trial detention in Egypt.

The European Parliament also appealed to the member states of the EU “to support the call for the creation of an international mechanism for monitoring and reporting gross violations of human rights in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council, as well a deep and comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of the very limited progress in Egypt’s human rights record.”

Many Egyptian deputies and politicians voiced their rejection of the European Parliament’s call and asserted that it was blatant interference in Egypt’s affairs.

Hind Rashad, a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News: “I strongly reject all lies and attempts to interfere in the affairs of the Egyptian state.”

His comment came as Egypt’s parliament asserted that the EU position reflected only a biased and subjective view of the reality in the country.

Tamer Abdel Qader, also a member of the House of Representatives, told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement on human rights in Egypt constitutes “blatant interference” in the affairs of “a country that enjoys all sovereign rights.” He also said the statement violates UN charters, “as it included many lies, fallacies and rumors.”

Abdel Qader added: “This old school has had its...policies exposed more than once, and everyone knows what the intentions of the (drafters) of these policies (are) towards the Egyptian state, which recently launched the National Strategy for Human Rights and laid frameworks for its implementation in front of everyone.

“Among the inaccuracies in the statement is that Egypt executes children, bearing in mind that Egyptian laws criminalize the trial or execution of children…Egyptian laws stipulate that they be placed in care homes for their rehabilitation and integration into society.”

Political expert Hazem El-Gendy, deputy head of the Egyptian Wafd Party, told Arab News that the decision of the European Parliament confirmed beyond any doubt that “there is a state of hostility and ambush adopted by some international institutions against Egypt” and that these are “not sufficiently aware of the developments of the situation in Egypt.”

El-Gendy said: “The resolutions say that Egypt has been living under a state of emergency since 2017, despite the announcement by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to cancel it in October 2021 … The declaration of a state of emergency came in light of the war waged by the state and terrorist groups in Sinai.”

Mahmoud Bassiouni, member of the National Council for Human Rights, also told Arab News that the European Parliament’s statement constitutes meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs and ignores the efforts of the Egyptian state to improve human rights.

He added that the controversial statement relied on a single source of information.


Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
Updated 26 November 2022

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations

Amnesty International lauds UN probe into Iran human rights violations
  • ‘The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard’
  • The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini

LONDON: Amnesty International has applauded the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in Iran as “long overdue” given the “dire situation” in the country.
Responding to Thursday’s announcement from the UN Human Rights Council that the “landmark” resolution had been passed, Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said: “The cries of the people in Iran for justice have finally been heard. It not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation, but puts in place a process to collect, consolidate and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions.
She added: “We hope it marks a fundamental shift in the international community’s approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The fact-finding mission comes 73 days on from the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s notorious morality police.
Amini’s death ignited a tinderbox of pent-up frustrations over falling living standards and discrimination against women and minorities, and has fueled the most widespread protests seen in the country since the 1979 revolution, with no signs of the protesters backing down.
The fact-finding mission is mandated to “collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings.”
Amnesty said as the resolution was being negotiated, Iranian authorities continued to reject the findings of UN experts and human rights organizations, and have persisted in widespread use of unlawful lethal force and sought the death penalty for protesters.
Iran has faced repeated cycles of protests since 2018, all of which have been met with violent reprisals.
“States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country,” said Callamard.
“This vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.”
Callamard said Amnesty has “consistently” documented crimes under international law committed by Iranian authorities against protesters, including unlawful killings, unwarranted use of lethal force, and mass arbitrary arrests and detentions.
It has also recorded enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the sentencing of individuals to lengthy prison terms or death.
Amnesty said: “Iranian authorities have ignored repeated calls by the international community to open criminal investigations into such crimes.
“Instead, they have sought to destroy evidence of crimes while persecuting survivors and victims’ relatives.”


Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
Updated 26 November 2022

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies

Israeli wounded in Jerusalem bus stop bombings dies
  • A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday's twin blasts
  • Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016

JERUSALEM: An Israeli wounded in rare bombings to hit Jerusalem earlier this week died Saturday, the hospital treating him announced, the latest casualty as violence surges in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital announced the death of Tadesa Teshuma “who was fatally wounded in an attack at the entrance to Jerusalem.”
A 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian was also killed in Wednesday’s twin blasts, which hit bus stops frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews at the city’s western exit.
Thirteen others were wounded, medics said, in the first bombings to hit the contested city since 2016 according to Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency.
A security source told AFP the explosives were detonated remotely and no group has claimed the attacks, which were celebrated by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The bombings come amid a spike in violence, which has claimed the lives of six Israelis and 14 Palestinians this month across Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.
Israeli security forces remain on high alert and on Saturday police briefly closed a main road in Jerusalem, not far from the site of the bombings, due to a suspicious package. The incident turned out to be a false alarm, police said.
During the second intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s, Palestinian militants repeatedly planted bombs at urban bus stops, including in Jerusalem.
Much of the recent violence has centered on the West Bank, where more than 125 Palestinians have been killed this year according to an AFP tally.
At least 26 Israelis have also been killed in attacks across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The dead have included Israeli troops, Palestinian militants and civilians on both sides including multiple children.
Earlier this year, 49 Gazans were killed in a three-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the coastal enclave.