Coronavirus: Middle East food shortage 'highly likely' says UN

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Food crisis in the Middle East is likely to worsen as the novel coronavirus crisis spreads across the region, several UN agencies said on Wednesday.

Nearly 40 million people across Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Afghanistan were impacted by food shortages in 2019, the UN said, warning that coronavirus may create a new crisis or accelerate the existing situation.

“Our organisations are closely following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the nutrition of those most affected, particularly the poor and most vulnerable communities in the region. Last year, one in five people were undernourished in the region,” regional directors of UN children’s agency (Unicef), the Food and Agriculture Agency, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation said in a statement.

The agencies called on the international community to double its efforts in ensuring the food supplies reach all areas in the region.

Municipal workers disinfect the iconic Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. AFP

People complete their transactions in the civil status department after Jordan's public sector employees returned gradually to work in Amman. Reuters

Iraqi security forces deployed during the Eid Al Fitr holidays in Baghdad. AP Photo

A woman uses a phone to film a man playing with a girl by a statue of a lion in the centre of the West Bank city of Ramallah, after the Palestinian Authority announced an end to its two-month coronavirus lockdown. AFP

Employees from Fatih municipality disinfect the courtyard of the Suleymaniye Mosque on the last day of Eid Al Fitr in Istanbul, Turkey. Getty Images

A dragon sculpture decorates an empty fish sandwich boat with the Galata Tower in the background in Istanbul, Turkey. AFP

A Palestinian local zoo worker washes an ostrich with a hose at the premises in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

A Palestinian local zoo worker handles Macaws at the premises in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

A kite is being flown near the Jamal Abdel Nasser Great Mosque in the centre of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. AFP

Iraqi security forces stand guard at a checkpoint in Baghdad. AFP

Goods await sterilisation at the port of Umm Qasr, Basra, Iraq. AP Photo

People complete their transactions in the Civil Status Department after Jordan's public sector employees returned gradually to work in Amman. Reuters

A waiter prepares coffee at a cafe which reopened for take away only in Tunis, Tunisia. EPA

Royal gendarmes patrol to prevent citizens from visiting the beach in Harhoura, near the capital Rabat, Morocco. EPA

Health workers record taxi drivers' information prior to collecting swab samples from them in Rabat, Morocco. EPA

Prior to the outbreak of the virus families across the region were facing difficulties in terms of affording and gaining access to safe and nutritious foods.

Nearly 110 million people were undernourished in the region, according to the Global Report on Food Crises 2020, published by the WFP.

The statement said government, private sectors and donors must address “the availability, access and affordability of safe and nutritious foods and protect the nutrition of the most vulnerable families, children, pregnant and lactating women across the region”.

They advised the necessary entities with several points in ensuring that food supply chains "keep moving and safe and nutritious foods remain available."

This can be done by protecting the incomes and livelihoods of those dependent on agriculture and casual labour, the statement said.

Offer an alternative to school feeding and nutrition while schools are closed, by providing guidance to school staff, parents and children on the importance of safe and healthy diets, hygiene and physical activity for school-aged children, said the statement.

They also urged governments to set up a "food security and nutrition surveillance system" using mobile phones or web-based surveys to monitor food market functionality, coping mechanisms and food consumption patterns.

The system should have a "timely collection and an update of food security and nutrition information to identify populations at risk, monitor and address factors likely to have a negative impact on the nutrition status of vulnerable groups," said the statement.

In 2019, the WFP warned that nearly 183 million people in 47 countries were at risk of food shortage if another political or economic shock were to occur.

Updated: May 27, 2020 05:22 PM

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