The war in Ukraine has resulted in a grain shortage in Africa and the Middle East and enhanced hunger in Lebanon. In 2021, more than 60% of wheat exports to Lebanon came from the Ukraine and 80% come from Russia and the Ukraine combined. This is due to the explosion in Beirut in August 2020 which destroyed the main grain silos in Lebanon. Bakeries are rationing bread and between February and March, general food prices were up 14%. This number was much higher for products such as white sugar which was up 72% and sunflower oil at 83%. Many people are facing starvation as they are no longer able to afford basic food supplies.
The war in Ukraine only enhanced existing poverty and hunger in Lebanon. The economic crisis in 2019, COVID-19, the Beirut explosion, and now the war in Ukraine results in a population where 80% live below the poverty line. Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs stated that “there is no clear solution.” Lebanon is hoping to receive $3 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a rescue loan that is contingent upon reforms within the Lebanese government. Nader does not believe this loan will receive approval. Nader stated that “The government has submitted a draft plan for financial reconstruction to the IMF to start financing. But is the government capable of implementing this plan? The answer is no.”
Furthermore, the Lebanese population is hesitant to trust their government with aid money because of past corruption. Fortunately, the World Food Programme (WFP) implemented a new program in Lebanon that distributes food vouchers as electronic cards that people can use in more than 400 grocery stores. Individuals can also use the cards at ATMs to withdraw money for basic needs. This electronic card system allows beneficiaries to decide their meals, providing them access to fresh produce. In addition, it boosts the local economy by supporting local businesses. The WFP also supports ending hunger in Lebanon in the education system. The WFP provides nutritious snacks to vulnerable Lebanese and refugee children in public schools across Lebanon. The snacks make up 40% of the monthly nutritional needs and they are an incentive for parents to keep their children in school.
On a local level, Matbakh el Kell community kitchen in Beirut has taken action to provide both food and job opportunities for the Lebanese people. Matbakh el Kell emerged in response to the Beirut explosion in 2020 to serve people in great economic crisis. The kitchen works in partnership with Achrafieh 2020, Bonheur Du Ciel, Beit El Baraka, Teta w Jiddo Project, Lebanese Food Bank, Mar Mikhael Church, Karantina Hospital and Beb w Chebbek who distribute the meals to beneficiaries in different communities across Beirut. Some of the beneficiaries include the elderly in Mar Mikhael neighborhood, outpatients at Karantina Hospital and orphans at Burj Hammoud.
During the holy month of Ramadan, hundreds of food packages stood ready to deliver for people who were unable to have meals without this aid. The women in the kitchen were cooking with only local supplies as the war in Ukraine prevented foreign supplies. An example of a food package is coleslaw, a rice dish and fruit.
The Lebanese people have been suffering for three years since the economic crisis in 2019. Hunger levels are rapidly increasing as food becomes unaffordable and scarce. Non-governmental aid has been crucial. The World Food Programme (WFP) designed a mutually beneficial system for Lebanese businesses and electronic card recipients while also assisting the retention rate of education. Matbakh el Kell sends thousands of food packages a day to vulnerable groups in the Beirut community. While the government is unable to support its people, it is the organizations that fight hunger in Lebanon.
– Jordan Oh