Refugee crisis impacts demand for food

by Chris Lyddon
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refugee crisis
Syrian refugees protest at the Syrian-Turkey border in 2011. Turkey has taken in almost 2 million refugees in the last five years.
Photo by Adobe Stock.
Turmoil in the Middle East has meant vast movements of population as people flee conflict, most recently in Syria. Feeding those people has meant big challenges for aid agencies and governments, and for the grain sectors in the countries most affected it has meant increased and changed demand as emergency action is followed by the need to deal with an increasingly long-term problem.

“The world is witnessing unprecedented numbers of people forced to flee their homes,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted on its website. “Driven by the Syria crisis and conflicts in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Burundi and Central America, they are rising every day.”

The initial impact of the Syrian crisis was felt most in neighboring countries.

“More than 4 million refugees from Syria are in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt,” Amnesty International said in a report published in December 2015. “Lebanon hosts approximately 1.2 million refugees from Syria, which amounts to around one in five people in the country. Jordan hosts about 650,000 refugees from Syria, which amounts to about 10% of the population. Turkey hosts 1.9 million refugees from Syria, more than any other country worldwide.”

Iraq, where 3 million people have been internally displaced in the last 18 months, hosts 249,463 refugees from Syria, Amnesty said. Egypt hosts 132,375 refugees from Syria.

“The UN humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is just 40% funded,” Amnesty said. “Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive just $13.50 per month, or less than half a dollar a day, for food assistance. More than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan living below the local poverty line.”

UNHCR’s November 2016 description of the problems faced as winter approaches showed how many people are still involved.

“With the onset of winter and temperatures falling in parts of the Middle East, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has started delivering life-saving assistance to 4.6 million displaced Iraqis and Syrians to help them weather the adverse conditions,” it said. “Nearly 15 million displaced Iraqis and Syrians face yet another season of grinding hardship and uncertainty, away from their homes and livelihoods. The continuing offensive in Mosul, Iraq, has already displaced scores of thousands.”

In early 2015, an attaché report analyzing the food market in Lebanon put the figure higher than Amnesty International’s.

“Predominately Arab and Muslim, the population of Jordan today is nearly 8 million, with an influx of at least 1 million refugees from Syria in the last two years,” the report said. “Jordan is also host to large populations of registered Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.”

Another attaché report looked at the effect on Turkey.

“Turkey has hosted more than 2 million Syrian refugees since the civil war began in Syria,” the report noted. “The refugee population currently comprises 4% of Turkey’s total population, which has impacted Turkey’s demographic structure and thus market preferences.

“As the Syrian population remains most consistent in Istanbul and southeast Turkey, entrepreneurs have opened a number of Syrian-style restaurants and bakery shops in these areas. The ease of these new developments suggests that the bakery sector in general offers a lot of opportunities for growth and development.”

A more recent attaché report on Egypt, considering the challenges facing the country’s grain subsidy system, noted that one element was “the increasing presence of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Sudan living in Egypt, the total of whom are estimated at 5 million.”