Unprecedented food crisis increasingly casting a shadow of fear over the Middle East

A survey by al-Monitor/Premise Data in Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt shows that 68 per cent of respondents are worried or somehow worried about finding food in the next six months. Turks are most afraid (75 per cent). Russia’s war in Ukraine weighs heavily on the situation.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – A poll by al Monitor/Premise Data carried out in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa shows that people are uncertain about the future, fearing an  unprecedented crisis looming on the horizon, especially when it comes to food and basic items.

About 68 per cent of the population are worried about food accessibility, with Russia’s war in Ukraine weighing heavily in the matter, experts note. Like in 2011, when the so-called Arab spring broke out across the region, inflation and food prices are critical issues for respondents.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global food prices in 2022 were up by 14.3 per cent over 2021, the highest increase since 1990.

The survey was conducted in Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, Tunisia, and Iraq, with a margin of error of about 3 per cent. Held between 15 December 2022 and 10 January 2023, nearly 4,500 respondents were asked about short- to medium-term prospects.

Most (62 per cent) said that they were able to meet their food needs, but were worried about the future. About 41 per cent said they were somewhat concerned and 27 per cent said they were very concerned about their household’s ability to access food in the next six months.

People in Turkey seem to be particularly concerned; a combined 75 per cent say they are somewhat concerned (44 per cent) and very concerned (31 per cent), followed by Tunisia (73 per cent).

The situation does not seem to be getting any better. When asked about the cost of food and drinks in recent weeks compared to the previous month, most respondents said prices increased, with 46 per cent saying they got a lot higher and 36 per cent saying they were somewhat higher.

In Egypt around 70 per cent of respondents said prices were a lot higher while 25 per cent said they were somewhat higher. Annual headline inflation in Egypt rose to 21.9 per cent in December, up from 19.2 per cent the month prior.

Rising energy (gas, electricity) and housing prices are another headache for Egyptians, raising fears, not to mention that they imported 80 per cent of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine before the war broke out.

In Turkey, annual inflation hit a 24-year high at 84.4 per cent in November, falling to 64.27 per cent in December, but this is relative as it is attributed to a favourable base effect.

Food prices rose nearly 1.9 per cent in December compared to November, while annual food inflation stood at 78 per cent, this according to data by the Turkish Statistical Institute.

In Iraq, where protests broke out last year in the south over higher food costs, price hikes are due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In war-torn Yemen, near-famine conditions prevail, international organisations note; Russia and Ukraine provide more than 40 per cent of its wheat.

Not surprisingly, most respondents have seen bread prices jump substantially in the last month, with Egypt in the worst situation, with 54 per cent reporting a large price increase.

No other country had more than 50 per cent of people report a large bread price rise. This can be partly attributed to Egypt’s love for bread. Per capita, Egyptians consume between 150 and 180 kilograms, which is more than double the global average of 70-80 kilograms.