Can MENA Reach the Sustainable Development Goals? An Overview of Opportunities and Challenges for Food and Nutrition Security

Nadim Khouri, Clemens Breisinger, and Hagar Eldidi


Persistent poverty, inequalities and growing conflict are among the obstacles hindering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Arab world. Achieving food and nutrition security in particular has been an ongoing challenge. Despite much effort and progress over the years, this challenge is now being further compounded in the context of emerging conflicts and economic challenges. The regional conflicts of the Middle East and North Africa truly became global in 2015, as evidenced by the massive increase in people fleeing violence and its consequences: threats against

This chapter is based on Chap. 9 “Regional Developments—Middle East and North Africa” published in IFPRI’s 2016 Global Food Policy Report. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2016. Funding for this book chapter was provided by the CGIAR Policies, Institutions and Markets Program.

N. Khouri (h) • C. Breisinger • H. Eldidi

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) World Trade,

Cairo, Egypt

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© The Author(s) 2017 175

G. Mergos, M. Papanastassiou (eds.), Food Security and Sustainability,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40790-6_10

Refugees hosted by and originating from Arab countries. Source

Fig. 10.1 Refugees hosted by and originating from Arab countries. Source: Authors' calculations based on World Development Indicators 2015 (World Bank 2015). WDI use data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR 2015b), Statistical Yearbook and data files, complemented by statistics on Palestinian refugees under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as published on its website. Data from UNHCR are available online at tistics/populationdatabase. Note: The Arab world is composed of the 22 member states of the Arab League

their lives, deprivation, and hunger. The Syrian conflict alone has caused the death of 200,000 people, the internal displacement of 7.6 million people, and the fleeing of more than 4 million people (UNHCR 2015a). While the flow of refugees from Syria and other conflict-ridden countries to Europe garnered major media attention, neighboring countries—including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey—have been challenged by a much bigger inflow (Maystadt and Breisinger 2015) . In fact, all Arab countries [1] combined hosted about 7 million refugees in 2014 (Fig. 10.1), or about 40 percent of all refugees globally. On the flip side of the coin, more than 6 million of the refugees in the world originate from the Arab region.

In addition to armed conflict and the refugee crisis, external factors have also buffeted the region in 2015. China’s economic downturn has diminished oil demand, further decreasing the price of the region’s main export. The oil revenues of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) were expected to fall by more than 50 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, forcing governments of oil-rich Arab countries to make significant budget cuts or increase debt levels. Oil-importing countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, are beginning to suffer from the resulting decrease in demand for goods and services from the GCC, which is counteracting some of the positive impact of lower fuel import bills (ESCWA 2015a).

Across the Arab region, there is a renewed consensus on the urgency of addressing the conflicts, the refugee crisis, and economic challenges posed by the international environment, which are impeding development. Consensus-building around regional priorities for the newly launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), along with some key food policy changes in the region, may afford a new opportunity to address food security, nutrition, and poverty needs and contribute to regional stability (Maystadt et al. 2014). Applying evidence-based policies will be key to help achieve these goals. With that comes the renewed need for relevant data, which represents another challenge given the lack of reliable, accessible data in the region (Breisinger et al. 2012).

  • [1] In this chapter, we refer to the MENA region as the Arab Region, which comprises the 22 memberstates of the Arab League of Nations.
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