Will the Russian war in Ukraine lead to famine in Lebanon?

Russia’s month-long siege of Ukraine has caused a shortage of wheat imports from Lebanon and made finding a new source of food a national priority. As the conflict progresses, consumers are already feeling the pain of rising prices and shortages of wheat in the markets. A substitute is urgently needed to mitigate the risk of increased hunger among the population.

Before the fighting started, Lebanon imported 80% of its wheat from Ukraine and its dependence was steadily increasing. In 2020, Lebanon imported 630,000 tons from Ukraine, compared to 535,000 tons in 2019. At the time, the central bank of Lebanon decided to delay the opening of credit lines necessary for the purchase of wheat, leading several flour mills to stop production due to a lack of financial resources. Lebanon is now on the brink of a bread crisis; the Al Nahar the newspaper reports that at least five ships are waiting to receive their due payments before unloading their cargo in the port of Beirut. In light of the recent crisis, Lebanese Economy Minister Amin Salam said the government had asked the central bank for a provision of $26 million to open a new line of credit so it could import 50,000 tons of corn from India. Salam said the country still has some guaranteed purchases from Ukraine, saying 26,000 tonnes will arrive next week. After that, however, Lebanon will need to diversify its supply chain.

However, the Lebanese government is bankrupt and facing a host of problems, exacerbated by the financial crisis that began in 2019 and the Beirut explosion in 2020 that left hundreds dead and thousands injured. To make matters worse, the explosion destroyed the gigantic grain silos that once boasted of carrying 100,000 tonnes of grain. This means that Lebanon, which had the capacity to feed itself for three to four months before the explosion, can now only feed itself for a little over a month. The depletion of food reserves has only increased the cost of consumer goods, thus increasing the burden on citizens and the government. Salam issued warnings about Lebanon’s dire financial situation, especially as the central bank subsidizes wheat at 100% of its cost. At current international prices, the Lebanese central bank spends nearly $20 million per month.

In a statement to the press, Salam said the state was working with traditional partners like the United States, Romania and other international donors to help secure 50,000 tons of wheat per month. Yet Lebanon’s partners have demanded that it reform its political system and tackle corruption before new aid reaches the country. In this difficult situation, however, the Lebanese people are suffering due to the reluctance of their leaders to do what is right. The immediate solution to rapidly rising food prices in Lebanon is to find new suppliers capable of filling the import gap created by Russia’s war in Ukraine. In the meantime, Lebanon will need close support from the international community.

Adnan Nasser is an independent Middle East analyst. He holds a BA in International Relations from Florida International University. Follow him on Instagram @revolutionarylebanon or contact him at [email protected].

Picture: Reuters.

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