Oxfam says Gazans will be the first to experience hunger related to shortages and price hikes due to Russia’s unprovoked attack.
Collateral damage from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war in Ukraine will almost certainly include hunger and greater food insecurity around the world and, according to international aid organization Oxfam, Palestinians are feeling the pinch.
Wheat storage in Palestine could be depleted in as little as three weeks, Oxfam says. The war has cut into food exports by both Ukraine and Russia, two of the world’s biggest exporters of wheat, and most families in the Gaza Strip are now eating less and purchasing food on credit.
“Every day we meet people who are searching for jobs and money just to feed their children,” said Najla Shawa, Oxfam’s head of food security in Gaza. “We feel very stuck at this stage.”
The global hunger crisis is poised to hit a new crescendo, according to an Oxfam report. Those suffering the most will be in countries that rely on imported grain from the war zone, including Yemen, which imports 22% of its grain from Ukraine; Lebanon, which gets 50%; and Tunisia, which sources 42% of its wheat with Ukraine. Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Algeria, Morocco and Ethiopia are also heavily reliant on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine. Also vulnerable are countries suffering from current or recent armed conflicts of their own, such as Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan.
Rising prices have diminished the purchasing power of struggling families worldwide, making it even harder to buy enough healthy food. There’s been fewer food rations sent to Yemen, where 16.2 million people are food insecure and pockets of famine-like conditions persist. Egypt, where wheat prices have risen 20% in recent weeks, and Jordan are two countries that have already considered halting wheat exports to prevent food from leaving the country.
“Any disruption in production or supply could drive prices up, affecting millions of vulnerable families, especially in hunger hotspots,” said Kyle Wilkinson of the UN World Food Programme. Middle Eastern and North African countries are “particularly vulnerable to higher food prices because they import large quantities of food.”
Palestine could be the canary in the coal mine. The Palestinian Authority does not have its own food-storage facilities, which complicates matters and even more directly connects prices to market fluctuations. About 95% of Palestine’s wheat needs are imported and about one-third of that comes from Ukraine. Much of it is shipped via Israel, which relies on Ukraine for as much as 50% of its grains. Nearly 40% of Palestine’s imported sunflower oil and 14% of its corn oil also comes from Ukraine.
Hunger was already rampant in Palestine before the war in Ukraine. About one-third of Palestinians are food insecure. According to the World Food Programme, “protracted conflict, economic stagnation and restricted trade and access to resources, coupled with high unemployment and poverty rates, continue to pose serious challenges.”
More than 2.1 million Palestinians will require some humanitarian assistance this year, according to Oxfam. The majority expected to need help are in Gaza, where more than 60% of the population is food insecure.
“We are witnessing the ways in which our global food and farming system is extremely susceptible to disruption, and how the consequences of disruption are most often borne by people who are already vulnerable and marginalized,” said Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “One consequence of our industrial agricultural system is it lacks the flexibility to adapt quickly to changing market conditions. Many farmers are already locked into set production levels and may have even sold future harvests.”
The Palestinian Authority disagrees with Oxfam’s assessment and says wheat-flour reserves could last for up to three months. The government has temporarily created tax exemptions on wheat flour and bakeries in an effort to remove impediments to feeding the people.
The situation in Gaza is turning disastrous, according to Oxfam’s Shawa. “Our work in Gaza is becoming increasingly challenging,” Shawa said. “It’s difficult to describe the true level of damage that all this is causing on people’s lives. It’s devastating.”