Carine Aimée Kamdem, who sells chickens in a market in Cameroon’s port city of Douala, had to make a hard choice this month. A sharp rise in prices has left her unable to afford bread for her four children, so she was forced to search for cheaper options.
Now her children get lower-quality food, such as local fried doughnuts known as “puff puff.” It leaves them hungry, she says.
“The children say it’s too little,” Ms. Kamdem says. “Honestly, it’s affecting them. It’s hurting us a lot.”
The soaring cost of bread in Cameroon, pushed up by global wheat shortages after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is just one of the war’s shock waves that continue to ripple around the world.
The war is sparking a rise in food prices in many countries. As many as 47 million additional people will fall into acute hunger in 81 countries worldwide this year because of higher grain and fuel prices resulting from the Ukraine war, with African countries likely to be the hardest hit, according to a report released on Thursday by the United Nations World Food Programme.
Even if the war is over by the end of this month, acute hunger globally will still increase by 33 million people, the report found. “The Ukraine crisis has taken a bad situation and made it much worse,” it said.
Compared to the last major food crisis in 2008, vulnerable families don’t have the same coping capacity and governments cannot finance social support programs as easily, largely because of the depressed incomes and debt distress that became more widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said.
The increase in hunger will mean that as many as 323 million people worldwide could suffer from acute hunger in 2022, it said.
The WFP’s executive director, David Beasley, said the new data was “terrifying.”
In a separate report last week, the UN food agency noted a disturbing wave of price increases in many of the world’s most vulnerable countries: cooking oil was up by 36 per cent in Yemen and 39 per cent in Syria, and wheat flour had jumped by 47 per cent in Lebanon and 15 per cent in Libya.
“People’s resilience is at a breaking point,” said Corinne Fleischer, WFP regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement. “This crisis is creating shock waves in the food markets that touch every home in this region. No one is spared.”
Adele Khodr of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said the number of malnourished children in the Middle East and North Africa will “drastically increase” this year because of unprecedented hikes in food prices at a time of low purchasing power.
The Ukraine-related food inflation is compounding the existing hunger crises in many regions. West Africa, for example, is in the midst of its worst food crisis in a decade. The number of hungry people in the region could increase to 38 million by June, compared to 27 million today, according to a report by 11 aid agencies, including Oxfam, Save the Children and CARE International.
“The crisis in Ukraine is making the situation dangerously worse,” Oxfam said in a statement this week. “Food prices could rise by another 20 per cent worldwide, an unbearable increase for already fragile populations.”
Oxfam also warned that the Ukraine war is likely to cause a “sharp drop” in international aid to Africa. “Many donors have already indicated that they may make cuts in their funding to Africa,” it said.
It noted, for example, that Denmark is postponing a large part of its assistance to Burkina Faso and Mali in order to fund programs for refugees from Ukraine.
Across Africa, an estimated 346 million people – more than a quarter of its population – are facing a food security crisis that could intensify in the coming months, the International Committee of the Red Cross said this week.
In Cameroon, the surge in global wheat prices has triggered a rise in bread prices of about 20 per cent since the Ukraine war began. Some bakeries are switching to cheaper flour made from cassava or sweet potatoes. But bread is a staple food in Cameroon, and the higher prices are inflicting pain on everyone from ordinary consumers to street vendors and bakery workers.
“I’m worried that it might affect my education,” said Theresia Ekie Taki, a 21-year-old university student in the city of Buea who sells bread every Sunday to bus and taxi passengers at a transport junction.
Her bread sales are her sole source of income to pay for her university costs, including lecture materials. Because of the higher prices, her income has dropped sharply. Her suppliers are delivering fewer loaves to her, because of their higher costs, and her customers are buying less.
“I’m finding it difficult to cope,” she told The Globe and Mail. “The money I get from a day’s sales can’t take me through the week. I feel really bad, because my income is being damaged, but I also feel bad for the suppliers.”
Nasser Betchen, a 32-year-old travel agent in Douala, said he has been obliged to cut back in other areas because of the higher cost of bread. Like many Muslims in Cameroon, he traditionally has bread to break his daily fast during Ramadan, but the cost is sharply rising.
“It’s very difficult for us, especially during Ramadan,” he told The Globe. “It will hurt us a lot. It’s not easy to buy bread at this new price, so it will affect us a lot.”
Derrick Asong Tantoh, manager of a bakery in Buea, said he learned about the price increase from his flour supplier in late February. “It was quite shocking because it happened without any prior notice. But since it’s our only source of income, we had no choice.” He said his bakery has been obliged to increase its bread prices and reduce the weight of its loaves. “It’s really difficult. We’ve reduced our production a great deal.”
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