03/10/2022, 17.06
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World Bank: war in Ukraine could lead to hunger (and riots) in the Middle East

The warning comes from Carmen Reinhart, the World Bank’s senior vice president and chief economist. Soaring food prices could spark unrest similar to what led to the Arab Spring. Egypt halts exports of lentils, pasta, wheat, flour and fava beans for three months.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Soaring energy and food prices, especially grains, linked to Russia’s war on the Ukraine is raising food security concerns in the Middle East and North Africa.

Uncontrolled tensions could lead to street protests like those of 2010 and 2011 that triggered  the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, which in turn sparked the Arab Spring with uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain.

The warning comes from World Bank Senior Vice President and Chief Economist Carmen Reinhart, who in an interview with Reuters pointed to the risks faced by the region, which has already experienced in the past the dangers of food insecurity.

“There will be important ramifications for the Middle East, for Africa, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular,” Reinhart said.

To deal with the issue, the G7 agriculture ministers will hold a virtual meeting tomorrow, focused on the impact on food of the Ukrainian invasion and the possible steps to be taken to stabilise the food market.

“I don't want to be melodramatic, but it's not a far stretch that food insecurity and riots were part of the story behind the Arab Spring," Reinhart explained, noting that coups, successful and unsuccessful, had increased over the past two years.

In addition, she explained that sudden spikes in food prices can lead to social unrest, like in 2007-2008 and again in 2011, when riots in more than 40 countries followed global food price rises.

In January of this year, prices for agricultural commodities were already 35% higher compared to a year ago, and are expected to rise further due to the war since Russia and Ukraine are both major exporters of wheat, maize, barley and sunflower oil.

If this happens, many government leaders may be tempted to implement subsidies; in many low-income countries this will add to their heavy debt loads.

Last month, the World Bank warned that the Middle East and North Africa could be particularly impacted since they are major importers of wheat from Ukraine and Russia, 80 per cent in the case of Egypt.

As evidence of how serious the situation is, the Egyptian government banned the export of wheat and other staples for three months, starting tomorrow, including lentils, pasta, wheat, flour and fava beans.

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