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UN Sends 50,000 Tons of Wheat to Lebanon to Avert Food Crisis

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 8/11/2020 Salma El Wardany

(Bloomberg) --

The United Nations is sending grain to Lebanon to avert a food crisis following last week’s explosion in Beirut that killed 160 people and destroyed grain silos.

The World Food Programme will ship 50,000 tons of wheat flour to Beirut, enough to supply Lebanon for three months, it and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, another UN body, said Tuesday. The first batch of 17,500 tons will arrive in 10 days.

The shipments will go to bakeries and millers and “ensure there is no food shortage,” OCHA said.

A huge blast on Aug. 4 tore through major grain silos in Beirut’s port, stoking fears of deeper food scarcities in a nation already reeling from an economic crisis. The explosion, which caused billions of dollars-worth of damage, occurred next to a grain store and left the country with only six weeks of flour reserves, half the standard amount to ensure food security, according to the UN.

Read: Beirut Explosion Destroys Tons of Lebanon’s Food Stocks

“Grain silos have been mostly destroyed, causing fears of skyrocketing food prices,” the WFP said.

Lebanon relies on privately owned mills to ship wheat from Ukraine, Russia and other European countries. The government used to buy grain from local farmers at above-market prices but hasn’t done so in years. Other food is also mostly imported.

The explosion exacerbates the plight of the Arab nation, which has been battered this year by the coronavirus pandemic and a financial meltdown. The government defaulted on around $30 billion of Eurobonds in March and has been trying to get a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Foreign exchange has dried up, causing a collapse in the Lebanese pound and shortages of food and fuel. Overall inflation in June stood at 90%, and for food alone it was almost 250%, according to the government’s statistics agency.

Lebanon's inflation rate is soaring amid shortages of forex and food © Bloomberg Lebanon's inflation rate is soaring amid shortages of forex and food

The WFP plans to expand its cash-assistance program in the country almost 10-fold to one million people. It’s also increasing the value of its food cards by 73% to 70,000 Lebanese pounds ($46 at the official exchange rate; $9.33 at the black-market rate most Lebanese people have to use) because of the high inflation.

The WFP has started airlifting mobile-storage units for grain to Beirut to replace the silos until they’re repaired. The first plane landed in the city on Saturday and two more are on their way, it said.

Beirut’s container terminal was only partially affected by the blast and it restarted the offloading of ships on Aug. 8, according to the UN.

“WFP has the capacity to launch a shipping operation that does not require port infrastructure,” the UN said. “WFP has the capacity to ship, deliver and unload wheat flour and bulk wheat grains directly into Beirut.”

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Video: Beirut Blast Tears Through Food Stocks (QuickTake)

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