World Food Pro­gramme ra­tions monthly aid in Ye­men as sup­ply chains creak

The National - News - - NEWS - DAMIEN McELROY

The maxim is that in­fla­tion is al­ways and ev­ery­where a mone­tary phe­nom­e­non but for Arif Hu­sain – chief econ­o­mist of the World Food Pro­gramme – the is­sue is a press­ing threat to life, now more than ever.

The on­set of the Covid-19 pan­demic is hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on food se­cu­rity for tens of mil­lions of peo­ple.

For a grow­ing group of vul­ner­a­ble coun­tries, a spi­ral of short­ages has com­bined with a col­lapse in the earn­ing power of the poor­est peo­ple. Many are not able to buy food when it is in the mar­kets.

On the front line of this tur­moil is Mr Hu­sain, who tracks the ham­mer blows from the sud­den dis­rup­tion. Two of the worst-af­fected coun­tries are Syria and Ye­men.

One bench­mark he used was that peo­ple would spend about 50 per cent of their in­come on food. Mr Hu­sain said fam­i­lies in Syria now bor­rowed money to eat.

“In Syria the prices of our food bas­ket have risen in the last three months by 70 per cent,” he told The Na­tional.

“Prices were up 205 per cent last year and are 15.8 times higher since the start of the war.

“With war, Covid and in­fla­tion, how do you ex­pect peo­ple to live?”

As the UN’s lo­gis­tics and global food sup­plies arm, the WFP stepped in to ab­sorb some of the shocks to the world­wide sup­ply chains caused by re­stric­tions im­posed dur­ing the pan­demic. The or­gan­i­sa­tion had to read­just to new pres­sures.

In Ye­men, the WFP was vi­tal to ef­forts to feed 12 mil­lion peo­ple each month, but since spring it has ro­tated re­cip­i­ents, giv­ing to six mil­lion in one month and the other half the next.

More than 90 per cent of Ye­men’s food is im­ported, a vul­ner­a­bil­ity that is ex­posed when­ever the cur­rency weak­ens.

“The sup­ply chains for these hard-hit places are not work­ing as usual,” Mr Hu­sain said.

Abeer Etefa, Mid­dle East di­rec­tor at the WFP, said the shift was vi­tal to hold the line against Ye­men fall­ing into famine.

“We need to ex­tend the re­sources as much as we can. When we say the word ‘famine’ it means we have col­lec­tively failed this coun­try,” she said.

What makes it more dif­fi­cult for Mr Hu­sain is many of the tools of the econ­o­mist pro­fes­sion are no longer func­tion­ing as re­li­able in­di­ca­tors.

He pointed to the equiv­a­lent of 400 mil­lion peo­ple be­ing taken out of the global work­force by pan­demic re­stric­tions – the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates that 93 per cent of work­ers were af­fected at some point

– as tak­ing away liveli­hoods. This means peo­ple can­not buy food.

Even if there is less food around, prices are not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect­ing this scarcity be­cause con­sumer de­mand has gone.

“Price sig­nal prices may stay nor­mal in any given place but what’s miss­ing is a mea­sure of pur­chas­ing power,” Mr Hu­sain said.

“Just to go solely by prices is not OK, be­cause pur­chas­ing power is not there.

“Gov­ern­ments have spent $11 tril­lion (Dh40tn) to con­tain the pan­demic and limit its dam­age and in ad­di­tion there has been $6tn pro­vided by cen­tral banks for liq­uid­ity.

“De­spite that mas­sive in­jec­tion you have 270 mil­lion peo­ple at risk of star­va­tion in 2020.”

The WFP is fac­ing an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple it pro­vides di­rect as­sis­tance to this year alone to 140 mil­lion.

Ms Etefa pointed to the tripling of prices in a year in Syria and its mean­ing for the or­di­nary per­son. “Ap­ples are a lux­ury as the price has gone up 450 per cent,” she said.

“These are very re­silient peo­ple and this is push­ing them to the edge.”

Reuters

A boy car­ries food aid given by the World Food Pro­gramme in Syria, where prices in­creased by more than 200 per cent last year

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