Hunger poses threat to Jordan, Middle East, experts warn

31 Oct 2014 10:53 PM

by Areej Abuqudairi |

AMMAN — In a region where food security is an enduring challenge, Jordan's limited resources place it at especially high risk of hunger and malnutrition, experts said on Sunday.

"Jordan is a resource-poor country with no oil and limited water and land resources. The rise of global food prices since 2008 has affected Jordan's food security, which is highly dependent on decreasing foreign grants and portfolio investments," Muttasim Hiyari, coordinator of the National Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition (NAJMAH), said at a regional forum on food security challenges in the region.

The Kingdom is self-sufficient in producing some vegetables and dairy products, but is highly dependent on imports of wheat, cereals and fodder, according to Hiyari.

Recent figures from the Department of Statistics (DoS) indicate that the country imported 95 per cent of its wheat needs in 2010, and 98 per cent in 2011.

Jordan achieved self-sufficiency in five out of 14 basic commodities in the 2011 Jordanian Food Consumption Basket, the DoS announced on Sunday.

In a statement carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, the DoS said the Kingdom achieved self-sufficiency in olives, olive oil, tomatoes, milk and eggs last year.

However, there is still a gap in the production of cereals, especially wheat, which the Kingdom imports in large quantities to meet local market demand.

Although Jordan has yet to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of red meat, production of this commodity went up from 20.1 per cent of demand in 2010 to 28.8 per cent in 2011.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates, 5 per cent of the country's population is undernourished, meaning that their food intake regularly provides less than their minimum energy requirements.

Twelve countries are participating in the two-day forum that started on Sunday, organised jointly by NAJMAH and the Global Secretariat of the Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition with the aim of creating a regional anti-hunger network, according to Hiyari.

NAJMAH was established in 2004 under the leadership of HRH Princess Basma to support governmental and non-governmental efforts to combat hunger and enhance food security in the Kingdom.

The princess, who inaugurated the forum, highlighted the threats hunger poses to children around the world.

"Hunger is the biggest cause of death in the world. Malnutrition can deprive many children of the world of enjoying a full life," Princess Basma said in her address.

"Child hunger hampers mental and physical development and thus prevents them from participating in essential daily life activities such as education or play. Hunger also affects individuals' opportunities of earning good incomes for their future," she noted.

Hiyari told The Jordan Times that the Syrian refugee crisis has contributed to an increase in food prices.

"Food prices have sharply increased this summer following the Syrian unrest. Gulf countries rely on Jordan for importing vegetables they used to import from Syria, which caused a shortage in the supply of some products. Accompanied by increased demand for these limited products, this has led to a more than 30 per cent increase in prices," he said.

Speaking at the event, Asif Niazi, a specialist at the World Food Programme, said increasing numbers of refugees in the region were posing a major challenge to food security.

"This region has high numbers of refugees and internally displaced people ranging between eight and 10 million, including Syrians, Palestinians, and Iraqis. These people do not have access to their land and food production anymore."

According to Niazi, food security in the region is challenged by other factors, including its high dependency on foreign markets for cereal and wheat products, arid land, limited agriculture, and political and social uncertainties.

Speaking on the efficiency of regional policies, FAO Food and Nutrition Officer Fatima Hashem said the recent uprisings in the Middle East indicated that policies addressing poverty and hunger must be revised.

"Over the past two years, we have seen revolutions erupt in the region. They were triggered by poverty and unemployment, especially among youths. This indicates that regional policies did not succeed in alleviating poverty and fighting hunger," Hashem stressed.

"In the 1990s, there were approximately 35 million poor people in the region, meaning 20.3 per cent. A decade later, percentages decreased slightly to 18.2 but numbers of the poor increased to 37.7 million considering the rapid growth of the population.”

She warned of "widespread" nutrition-related health problems in the region such as anaemia, which "mainly affects women at reproductive age, pregnant women, and children", vitamin D deficiency among women, as well as stunted growth among children.

Despite challenges threatening food security, there are lots of opportunities to combat hunger in the region, according to Niazi.

"The land mass in the region is so large. It also has good access to sunshine and seawater, which could be utilised by the great human resources this region has," he said.

According to a statement by conference organisers, UN estimates indicate that the number of hungry people in the world will approach one billion by the end of this year.