The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is facing a deepening food security crisis as it begins the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. The combination of high food inflation and collapsing currencies is affecting millions of people, particularly those living in countries already facing conflict and instability.
Food prices are skyrocketing, and many countries in the region are dealing with crippling budget deficits, high levels of public debt, currency devaluation and dangerous levels of inflation.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), five countries in the region have seen food inflation going beyond 60 percent just this year, with Lebanon and Syria facing triple-digit food inflation at 138 percent and 105 percent, respectively.
“The region’s dependency on food imports means millions of people – particularly the poorest – are vulnerable when internal or external shocks push up food prices,” said WFP’s chief economist Arif Husain. “The combination of high food inflation, collapsing currencies, and stagnant incomes has left families unable to put food on the table.”
At the same time, food production in the MENA region is curtailed by both conflict and a deepening climate crisis. In Iraq and Syria, prolonged droughts and the effects of conflicts have reduced cultivated areas and cut food production.
The region has been hit hard by the climate crisis and is seeing prolonged droughts and heatwaves, wildfires, flooding, erratic rainfall, and landslides.
“Governments need to invest more in agriculture across the region where almost all countries are import-dependent,” says WFP regional director for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe Corinne Fleischer. “This is a long-term strategy that will not help the poor cope with price rises now but will pay dividends some years down the line.”
The number of food-insecure people across the region increased by 20 percent over the past three years – reaching more than 41 million people, compared to 2019.
In response, WFP is using integrated approaches, which aim to address the root causes of food insecurity while at the same time meeting immediate needs. In 2023, WFP is targeting nearly 35 million people across the MENA with food and nutrition assistance and working to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable in the face of regional and global shocks.
As the crisis continues, it is critical that governments, international organisations, and donor countries take action to address food security across the region. This includes increasing funding for humanitarian assistance, supporting local farmers to boost food production, and addressing the underlying causes of conflict and instability in the region.
“The global community must come together to support the most vulnerable people in the MENA region, including refugees and internally displaced people,” said Husain. “We must work together to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition in the region, including conflicts, the climate crisis, and economic instability.”