BEIRUT: Officials warned Thursday of the risks posed by the Syrian crisis for food security in Lebanon, including disruptions to food exports and contaminated meat passing unchecked across the border, as well as inadequate food supplies for the growing refugee population and the Lebanese poor.
“Food insecurity and vulnerability to economic shocks remains a concern for the Lebanese poor,” said Robert Watkins, the U.N. permanent representative in Lebanon.
“This situation has been dramatically exacerbated with the onset of the Syrian crisis and influx of Syrian refugees, the greatest burden of which has coincided with those areas of Lebanon that were already the most vulnerable.”
Lebanon has over 750,000 registered Syrian refugees.
Watkins was speaking at a ceremony commemorating World Food Day 2013 at the UNESCO palace in Beirut.
He said that “stabilization” efforts to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis were desperately needed, or 170,000 Lebanese would be pushed into poverty and the unemployment rate could double in 2014.
Hussein Hajj Hassan, the agriculture minister, said that farming and agriculture suffered in Lebanon in 2013 as a result of security and political crises in the region, as well as “political divisions and institutional paralysis” in Lebanon.
He outlined a series of measures taken by the ministry to combat food insecurity in Lebanon, including exporting more local produce, treating mad cow disease and intensifying disease and pest control efforts for the country’s livestock, as well as protecting nature reserves and commissioning research projects.
A report published earlier in the year by the FAO and the World Food Program outlined the impact of the Syrian crisis on food security in Lebanon, including lower wages and buying power for the Lebanese and higher food prices as a result of border closures.
There are also challenges in making food available for refugees amid the high influx. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recently instituted a program to target the most vulnerable refugees with food aid.
The collapse of border security can also encourage the transfer of livestock without proper controls, risking the spread of diseases among livestock, according to Lahoud. Money for agricultural development has also been rerouted to deal with the immediate needs of providing food and shelter to refugees, he said.
Lebanon faces difficulties due to improper agricultural practices, which lead to soil erosion, depletion of water resources and chemical contamination.
Agriculture in Lebanon employs 15 percent of the population.
Officials said food policies should aim to improve nutrition rather than simply increase yields and food exports. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates there are 165 million malnourished children under 5 around the world, while 1.4 billion individuals are overweight.
The officials indicated a gap between Lebanon’s urban and rural populations.
“There are, however, significant and long-standing disparities between urban and rural areas, especially concerning macronutrients [carbohydrates, proteins and fats] intake,” Watkins said, referring to access to food.
This disparity is a result of poverty, lower levels of education, particularly for women, in the rural areas, a lack of access to health care services and poor sanitation, he said.
Ali Moumen, the representative of the FAO in Lebanon, said Lebanon should promote local food production in order to promote food security, saying there was “political will” to strengthen local agriculture.
“A country that has no food security at this time, cannot grow economically.”
Moumen said a campaign to vaccinate livestock from Syria and in Lebanon would begin next month.
The FAO, which has been working in Lebanon since 1977, has numerous programs here including preserving fisheries, seeds and seedlings; managing crops; promoting growth of livestock; and tackling water scarcity.