UN warns food prices in Lebanon could “skyrocket” after much of the country’s supplies were destroyed in a port explosion.
The UN’s World Food Programme said the up to 120,000 tonnes of staple food stocks, such as wheat, soy and beans, had been destroyed in the blast on 4 August, which killed more than 200 people.
The loss of stocks could “exacerbate the already grim economic and food security outlook in the country”, the WFP said.
Dave Beasley, executive director of the WFP told a press conference he is “very, very concerned” that the country could run out of bread in less than three weeks, as 85% of its grain supply enters the country through the port.
Food imports account for up to 85% of the country’s food needs, but there had been a sharp decrease in the six months leading up to April 2020. “As a consequence, the cost of staple foods has doubled in recent months,” the WFP said.
Beasley added a ship with 17,500 tonnes of wheat flour should arrive in Beirut “within two weeks, and that’s to put bread on the table of all the people of Lebanon, and that will give us a bread supply for 20 days.
“While we’re doing that, we’ve got a 30-day supply of about 30,000 metric tonnes of wheat that we’re bringing in, and then another 100,000 metric tonnes over the next 60 days after that.”
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s economy minister Raoul Nehme told Reuters the country had “very limited” resources to deal with the disaster.
However, he said there would be no flour or bread crisis, despite the fact there were no government stocks. Nehme added the ministry had been planning to create a strategic reserve of around 40,000 tonnes and was in the final stages of negotiations.
“Luckily we did not - it would have been destroyed.”
Meanwhile, the Institute of International Finance has warned the port explosion would deepen the contraction of Lebanon’s economy from -15% to -24%.
The country was already suffering from its worst financial and economic crisis since gaining independence in 1943.
Prior to the blast, the World Economic Forum estimated the existing crisis could put 850,000 individuals, equivalent to 22% of the Lebanese population, under the extreme poverty line, and a further 1.7m individuals, equivalent to 45%, under the upper poverty line.