Beirut, 30 August 2020--Lebanon relies heavily on food imports to meet the needs of its population. After the massive explosion that destroyed a significant part of the Beirut Port, the country’s main logistical point for the entry of goods; and with the depreciation of the Lebanese pound by 78%; COVID-19 containment measures; and sharp increases of poverty and unemployment rates; more than half of the country’s population is at risk of failing to access their basic food needs by the year’s end.
This alarming situation has prompted the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) to issue a new policy brief today entitled “Is Food Security in Lebanon under Threat?”
Prior to the blast, the national currency depreciation had already sharply inflated prices: the yearly average inflation rate is expected to be more than 50% in 2020, compared with 2.9% in 2019. In July 2020, the average price of food products had increased by 141% compared with July 2019.
A further slight rise is expected owing to increased transaction costs of food imports and the lack of trust in the governance of food availability, which may induce panic buying.
Commenting on this dire situation, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti called on the Lebanese Government to prioritize the rebuilding of silos at the Beirut Port as a food security national asset, and rehabilitate the central drug warehouse and ensure continuous supply of essential medicines and vaccines for the most vulnerable.
“Immediate measures should be taken to prevent a food crisis, such as intensifying food price monitoring, ensuring ceiling shelf price and encouraging direct sales from local producers to consumers,” Dashti added
The brief also highlights a cost increase of agricultural production by more than 50% for various agriculture systems, which is expected to reduce the national agricultural output in the immediate term. In addition, Lebanese farmers lose about 30% of their perishable products owing to low post-harvest technical skills and lack of adequate infrastructure. Yet, in 2020, only 0.36% of total government budget was dedicated to agriculture.
Dashti stressed the need to rebuild and rehabilitate food security national assets, and encourage local production and processing to replace some important agriculture inputs by locally produced ones. She also called for supporting agricultural trade, for example by dedicating special credit line facilities for input suppliers to allow minimum imports based on official or subsidized exchange rates, as is the case for basic products such as wheat and medicines.
“The international community should prioritize and expand food security programmes targeting refugees and host communities to address growing levels of vulnerability and diffuse potential social tensions,” she concluded.
The policy brief, issued after a previous one on poverty in Lebanon, is part of a series of impact assessments of COVID-19 undertaken by ESCWA to support Arab Governments in joining efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
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