The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is facing a significant food security crisis as it enters the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. With a combination of high food inflation and collapsing currencies, millions of people in the region, particularly those living in countries already facing conflict and instability, are affected.
The MENA region is grappling with food prices that have skyrocketed, with many countries in the region 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 go beyond 60 percent just this year, with Lebanon and Syria facing triple-digit food inflation at 138 percent and 105 percent, respectively.
The situation is dire, with families struggling to put food on the table. The region’s dependency on food imports leaves millions of people, particularly the poorest, vulnerable to internal or external shocks that push up food prices. 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 MENA region has been hit hard by the climate crisis, with prolonged droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, flooding, erratic rainfall, and landslides. With the number of food-insecure people across the region increasing by 20 percent over the past three years, reaching more than 41 million people compared to 2019, the situation is dire.
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 WFP is responding to the crisis using integrated approaches, aiming to address the root causes of food insecurity while at the same time meeting immediate needs. In 2023, the WFP is targeting nearly 35 million people across the MENA region with food and nutrition assistance and working to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable in the face of regional and global shocks.
It is critical that governments, international organizations, and donor countries take action to address food security across the region as the crisis continues. 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. As WFP’s chief economist Arif Husain said, “We must work together to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition in the region, including conflicts, the climate crisis, and economic instability.