Rising Food Prices Shake North Africa As Ukraine War Rages

A sign is placed on almost empty shelves of bread and other wheat-based food products that reads in French “one bag per person”, at a supermarket in the Tunisian capital Tunis, on March 13, 2022. (Photo by Anis MILI / AFP)

 

Households across North Africa are rushing to stock up on flour, semolina and other staples as food prices rise following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both key wheat exporters to the region.

The scramble is worse coming just weeks before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims traditionally break a dawn-to-dusk fast with lavish family meals.

Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, along with several other Arab countries, import much of their wheat from Ukraine and Russia.

Some fear the Russian invasion could lead to hunger and unrest, with memories of how rising food prices played a role in several Arab uprisings last decade.

READ ALSO: Second Ukraine Mayor Abducted By Russian Troops

In one supermarket in the Tunisian capital, the shelves were bare of flour or semolina, and only three packs of sugar sat on a shelf near a sign that read: “One kilo per customer, please”.

Store managers said the problem was “panic buying”, not shortages.

Shopper Houda Hjeij, who said she hadn’t been able to find rice or flour for two weeks, blamed the authorities.

“With the war in Ukraine, they did not think ahead,” the 52-year-old housewife in Tunis said.

Bulk-buying ahead of Ramadan, which is expected to start in early April this year, is common in Muslim countries.

But some say the war in Ukraine has sparked a shopping frenzy.

– Fear of war –

Hedi Baccour, of Tunisia’s union of supermarket owners, said daily sales of semolina — a staple across North Africa used in dishes of couscous — have jumped by “700 percent” in recent days.

Sugar sales are up threefold as Tunisians stockpile basic foodstuffs, said Baccour, who insisted there were no food shortages.

Each day pensioner Hedi Bouallegue, 66, makes the round of grocery shops in his Tunis neighbourhood to stock up on products like cooking oil and semolina.

“I am even ready to pay double the price,” he told AFP.

Baker Slim Talbi said he had been paying three times as much for flour than in the past, “although the real effects of the (Russia-Ukraine) war have not hit us yet”.

“I am worried” about the future, Talbi added, citing Tunisia’s dependence on Ukrainian wheat.

Tunisia imports almost half of the soft wheat used to make bread from Ukraine. Authorities say the North African country has enough supplies to last three months.

Oil-rich Libya gets about 75 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Morocco also relies heavily on the same source for supplies.

Algeria — Africa’s second-largest wheat consumer after Egypt — does not import any from the two warring eastern European countries, instead sourcing it from Argentina or France, according to the bureau of cereals.

“There won’t be any shortages — wheat shipments regularly arrive at Algiers port,” said harbour official Mustapha, who declined to give his full name.

Despite reassurances, panicked citizens recently ransacked semolina stocks in Algeria’s eastern Kabylie region.

“War in Ukraine and all the semolina warehouses have been stormed,” Mouh Benameur, who lives in the area, posted on Facebook.

– Recession, pandemic, recovery –

Food prices were on the rise in North Africa before Russia invaded Ukraine more than two weeks ago.

Moroccan official Fouzi Lekjaa pointed to a global economic pick-up following a pandemic-induced slump.

“With the recovery, the market price of cereals and oil products rose,” he said.

Mourad, 37, a shopper in the Moroccan capital Rabat, said climate change and drought — the worst in his country in decades — were also to blame.

To keep prices affordable and avoid a repeat of bread riots that erupted in the 1980s, Tunisia subsidises staples like sugar, semolina and pasta.

For the past decade, it has set the price of a baguette loaf of bread at six US cents.

Algeria plans to scrap subsidies on basic goods, but has not yet done so.

After a truck drivers’ strike this week, Morocco said it was mulling fuel subsidies for the sector “to protect citizens’ purchasing power and keep prices at a reasonable level,” according to government spokesman Mustapha Baitas.

In Libya, which found itself with two rival prime ministers this month, sparking fears of renewed violence, food prices are also hitting the roof.

At a Tripoli wholesale market, shopper Saleh Mosbah blamed “unscrupulous merchants”.

“They always want to take advantage when there is a conflict,” he said.

Summaya, a shopper in her 30s who declined to give her full name, blamed the government.

“They reassure people by saying there is enough wheat,” she said, carrying two five-kilo (11-pound) bags of flour. “I don’t believe them.”

AFP

Mideast Economy Recovering But Social Unrest On The Rise, Says IMF

In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 27, 2020, the IMG logo is seen on the building of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The Middle East and North Africa are on track to economic recovery, but rising social unrest and unemployment are threatening to hinder “progress”, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday.

The MENA region, which includes the Arab countries and Iran, saw its real GDP growth shrink by 3.1 percent in 2020 due to lower oil prices and sweeping lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

But with rapid vaccination campaigns, particularly in the Gulf nations, the IMF predicted that GDP growth would rise to 4.1 percent this year, a slight upgrade of 0.1 percent from the last projection in April.

“The region is going through recovery in 2021. Since the beginning of the year, we see progress in the economic performance,” Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, told AFP in an interview.

But “this recovery is not the same in all countries. It is uncertain and uneven because of the divergence in vaccination… and geopolitical developments”, Azour added.

The IMF said this month that while prospects for oil-exporting economies improved with higher oil prices, low-income and crisis-hit countries are witnessing “fragile” recoveries.

It warned of “a rise in social unrest” in 2021 that “could pick up further due to repeated infection waves, dire economic conditions, high unemployment and food prices”.

Unemployment rates increased in MENA last year by 1.4 percent to reach 11.6 percent.

This rise exceeds that seen during the global financial crisis and the 2014-15 oil price shock, the IMF said.

The fund also warned of the longer-term risk of the uneven recovery, which could lead to a “permanent widening of existing wealth, income, and social gaps and, ultimately, weaker growth and less inclusive societies”.

About seven million more people in the region are estimated to have entered extreme poverty during 2020-21 compared to pre-crisis projections, according to the IMF.

In Lebanon, the continuing drop in the value of the currency has dashed hopes that the government formed last month can stem an economic crisis, branded by the World Bank as one of the worst since the mid-19th century.

Nearly 80 percent of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line.

“The Fund has already started technical discussions with the authorities… to develop what would be in fact that the framework within which the fund can help Lebanon,” said Azour, a former Lebanese finance minister.

UNICEF Seeks $2.5bn For Mideast Children As COVID-19 Deepens Poverty

Libya Identified As Epicenter For Migrant Child Abuse

 

The UN children’s agency Monday appealed for $2.5 billion in new funds for 39 million children in the Middle East and North Africa impacted by war, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic.

“The region is home to the highest number of children in need in the world,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“This is largely due to man-made crises including armed conflicts, poverty and economic stagnation.”

He said the latest appeal “aims to reach children with critical humanitarian assistance and continue responding to the massive needs emerging as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Children are most in need in war-torn Yemen, in and outside conflict-wracked Syria, and in Sudan, UNICEF said in a statement.

In Yemen, 12 million children, or almost every child, need assistance after five years of conflict, it said.

READ ALSO: Pope Francis Plans Historic Iraq Trip In March

In Syria, 4.8 million children need aid after a civil war has killed more than 380,000 people, displaced millions and ravaged the economy.

A further 2.5 million live as refugees in neighbouring countries after their parents fled the almost ten-year conflict.

In Sudan, 5.3 million children need aid because of unprecedented floods, an economic crisis and a sweeping political transition from autocratic rule toward democracy.

In Lebanon, 1.9 million children now rely on assistance as the economy has plummeted and following a massive explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of the capital in August.

Most funds requested in UNICEF’s appeal would go towards supporting children’s education, while the rest would ensure access to water, sanitation, healthcare and nutrition, and mental health support, it said.

“We hear of fatigue to fund long-term crises like in Yemen and Syria,” Chaiban said.

But he stressed that “the world cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of children impacted by two of the most horrific conflicts in recent history”.

AFP

COVID-19 Impact Could Kill Over 50,000 Children In MENA – UN

(FILES) In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

UN agencies warned Monday that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to the deaths of an additional 51,000 under-fives in the Middle East and North Africa by the end of the year.

The World Health Organisation and United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said the disruption of essential health and nutrition services risked “reversing progress (on) child survival in the region by nearly two decades”.

“While we do not have many cases of COVID-19 among children in the region, it is evident that the pandemic is affecting children’s health firsthand,” the agencies warned.

“An additional 51,000 children under the age of five might die in the region by the end of 2020” in the case of rising malnutrition and a protracted lack of access to vaccinations and treatment for childhood diseases.

Such a number of extra deaths would represent an increase of almost 40 percent over pre-COVID-19 figures, they said in a joint statement issued in Amman.

READ ALSO: Norway Suspends Virus-Tracing App After Privacy Concerns

The agencies called for a “full and safe resumption” of essential immunisation campaigns and nutrition services, following “strict precautionary measures for infection prevention”.

The agencies cited overstretched health facilities with little personal protective equipment, economic hardships and parents’ fears of contracting the COVID-19 illness at health clinics among factors that could cause a huge rise in child deaths.

“But we can avoid this scenario, allowing tens of thousands of children to celebrate their fifth birthday surrounded by their families and friends,” they said.

They urged authorities to work “to increase trust in public health systems and promote appropriate care-seeking behaviours among families”.

AFP

UK, U.S. Ban Electronic Devices On Flights

UK, U.S. Ban Electronic Devices On FlightsThe United States and United Kingdom have announced a new ban on laptops on passenger flights from the Middle East and some North African countries.

The British ban, which was announced a few hours after the American ban, was similar but applied to different airlines.

According to the UK, airline passengers on 14 carriers would not be able to carry laptops in cabin luggage on inbound direct flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

In its reaction, Turkey condemned the U.S. ban as wrong, and advised it be reversed.

The nine airlines affected by the U.S. ban are Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Arlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.

The ban takes effect on Saturday, with no end date in sight.

Plane Reportedly Crashes In South Sudan

Plane Reportedly Crashes In South SudanA plane reportedly crashed on Monday in South Sudan.

An aid worker in the North African country disclosed that no death has been recorded yet in the incident.

Although the cause of the crash has not been uncovered, emergency workers are on ground to ensure safe evacuation of passengers from the plane.

A source close to Channels Television said dozens of locals were also on ground to assist the emergency workers.

plane1

FA Cup Broadcast Rights: FA Signs New Overseas Deal

FA Cup Broadcast RightsThe Football Association has announced its agreement for a new six-season overseas broadcast rights deal for the FA Cup, starting from the 2018-19 season.

BBC says Pitch International would have coverage rights for Western Europe, Middle East and North Africa while IMG is expected to cover the rest of the world.

Both firms would commission deals to broadcasters while domestic rights would remain with the BBC and BT Sport.

The deal also includes rights for The FA Community Shield and The FA Youth Cup.

The FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn, described the deal, which is reportedly worth one billion pounds, as “hugely significant”.

Glenn said it would allow more investment in pitches, facilities and participation programmes.

“It is not overstating it to say that it could have a transformational impact on what we are able to achieve across the country.

“It also underlines the global popularity of The Emirates FA Cup.

“With its history and tradition, it has the remarkable ability to create fantastic stories and inspire fans, players and clubs to believe anything is possible,” said the FA chief.

UK Parliament Attacks Cameron Over Libya ‘Collapse’

David Cameron, Libya, UKIt does seem like the ghost of former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, is coming back to haunt western leaders as a UK parliamentary report sternly criticised the intervention by Britain and France that led to the 2011 Libyan revolution.

The Foreign Affairs Committee accused the former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, of lacking a coherent strategy for the air campaign.

It said the intervention was flawed as it lacked “accurate intelligence”, and that it led to the emergence of the Islamic State in North Africa.

However, BBC said the UK government insisted it had been an international decision to intervene.

According to the foreign office, the action had been called for by the Arab League and authorised by the UN Security Council.

Nigeria Wins Under-23 African Nations’ Championship

Under-23Nigeria’s Under-23 team on Saturday defeated Algeria in the final of the Under-23 Africa Nations Championship to become African Champions for the first time.

Nigeria opened scoring from the penalty spot through Oghenekaro Etebo after Victor Osimhen was brought down in the 12th minute.

Defender Olusegun Oduduwa put the score line at 1-1 with a headed own goal to help the Algerians get back in the game before Oghenekaro Etebo produced a fine run to score his second goal of the match making it  2-1 for Nigeria in the 40th minute.

Algeria were awarded their own penalty in the second half after Oduduwa again fouled an Algerian player but the Nigerian goalkeeper, Emmanuel Daniel, became the hero as he saved Zinedine Ferhat’s effort.

Oghenekaro Etebo finished as the tournament’s top scorer.

Nigeria’s semi final victory over hosts, Senegal had ensured they also qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Saturday’s final clash at the Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor in Dakar, Senegal, was third time Nigeria and Algeria have met at the Under-23 level since the inaugural competition in Morocco in 2011.

Nigeria thrashed the North Africans 4-1 four years ago, before they played a goalless draw in a group game at the just concluded tournament in Senegal.

 

Dream Team Not Under Pressure – Siasia

siasiaDream Team VI Coach, Samson Siasia, has revealed that his team will go into Saturday’s final game against Algeria in a more relaxed mood, after qualifying for Rio 2016 Olympics.

Siasia said he is very happy to be in the finals of the CAF U-23 Nations Cup.

He said that the tournament has been a very long journey, with a lot of ups and downs.

The team captain, Azubuike Okechukwu, who just served out his one -match suspension, dismissed insinuations that the players are under pressure to win the Africa U-23 Cup of Nations, but that they will ensure they do the country proud.

Taiwo Awoniyi will also be feature in the Algeria clash. The striker is back in training after an ankle injury kept him out of Wednesday’s semi-final against hosts, Senegal.

Nigeria will lock horns with Algeria at the Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor in Dakar, 8pm Nigerian time.

Saturday’s clash will make it the third time both teams will meet at the U-23 level since the inaugural competition in Morocco in 2011.

Nigeria thrashed the North Africans 4-1 four years ago, before they played a goalless draw in a group game in Senegal.

Spain, Morocco Arrest 14 Suspected ISIS Recruiters

ISISThe Spanish Interior Ministry says 14 people have been arrested in Spain and Morocco on suspicion of recruiting fighters for ISIS.

According to reporters, the suspects were arrested in Madrid and several locations in Morocco during a joint operation involving both countries.

The men were accused of being part of a networking that recruits and sends fighters to join the ranks of terror group, ISIS.

The operation came days after a 26-year-old Moroccan man was accused of attacking passengers on a train in France, armed with a Kalashnikov, an assault rifle and a box cutter knife.

Spain and other countries in Europe and North Africa have said they are alarmed about the risk of locals joining militants abroad and returning to launch attacks at home.

U.S. Issues Global Travel Alert, Cites al Qaeda Threat

The United States issued a worldwide travel alert on Friday warning Americans that al Qaeda may be planning attacks in August, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

The State Department travel alert was based on the same intelligence that prompted it to close 21 U.S. embassies and consulates on Sunday, August 4, chiefly those in the Muslim world, a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula,” its statement said.

“Current information suggests that al Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” it added, saying the travel alert would expire on August 31.

Among the most prominent of al Qaeda’s affiliates is Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based group whose attempted attacks included the Christmas Day 2009 attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

U.S. security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the threat was related to AQAP but there was not a specific target. They also said that it was aimed at Western interests, an assessment later confirmed by the top U.S. military officer.

“The intent is to attack Western, not just U.S. interests,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast on its “This Week” program on Sunday.

“There is a significant threat stream and we’re reacting to it,” he said, adding that the kind of potential attack was “unspecified.”

Britain said it would close its embassy in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in the final days of Ramadan and into Eid,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement, referring to the Muslim holy month which ends on Wednesday.

‘SOME SPECIFICITY’

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the threat was serious and that the U.S. government had reacted in such a dramatic manner “because we have some specificity but not enough.”

On Thursday, the State Department said U.S. embassies that would normally be open on Sunday – chiefly those in the Muslim world – would be closed that day because of security concerns, adding that they might be shut for a longer period.

The embassies in the following countries will be closed: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The consulates in Arbil, Iraq; Dhahran and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates will also be shut.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, which is normally closed to the public on Sunday, said all its facilities would be shut on Sunday and workers not essential for the building’s security had been told not to come in.

It also said the American Center in Jerusalem and the Haifa Consular Agency would be closed on Sunday.

While the U.S. State Department routinely releases what it describes as a “Worldwide Caution” warning U.S. citizens of the general potential danger of attacks around the world, Friday’s travel alert was based on more specific information, said one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The previous “Worldwide Caution” was issued on February 19.

U.S. officials declined to provide additional details about the intelligence that led them to close the diplomatic missions and to issue the worldwide travel alert.

However, a second U.S. official said there was no information on a specific target, which was the reason for the broad alert.

The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, said on CNN’s “New Day” that he and several other lawmakers met two days ago with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss the threat.

Later on MSNBC, Royce said: “I believe that it is probably now prudent, given the fact that, in this case, we do have this intelligence, to take this step to make certain that we have fully protected our embassy personnel.”