UNITED NATIONS: With the holy month of Ramadan about to begin, the soaring costs for food staples in import-dependent Middle East and North African countries are stretching people’s resilience to a “breaking point”, with Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine adding to their woes, the UN food agency agency has warned. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement that Russia’s offensive had contributed to surging costs of flour and vegetable oil ahead of the holy month – when people typically gather in the evening for Iftar with friends and family to break the daily fast. “We are extremely concerned about the millions of people in this region who are already struggling to access enough food because of a toxic combination of conflict, climate change and the economic aftermath of Covid-19,” Corinne Fleischer, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said Thursday. “People’s resilience is at a breaking point,” she said. “This crisis is creating shock waves in the food markets that touch every home in this region. No one is spared.” The knock-on effect of the Ukraine crisis is adding further strain to the import-dependent region. The prices of wheat flour and vegetable oil – two key staples in the diet of most families – have consequently risen across the region. Cooking oil is up 36 percent in Yemen and 39 percent in Syria. Wheat flour is up 47 percent in Lebanon, 15 percent in Libya and 14 percent in Palestine. Even prior to the conflict in Ukraine, inflation and increasing prices were putting basic food items beyond the reach of the most vulnerable. Food prices reached an all-time high in February 2022, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Price Index. The cost of a basic food basket – the minimum food needs per family per month – registered an annual increase of 351 percent in Lebanon, the highest in the region. It was followed by Syria, with a 97 percent rise, and Yemen with 81 percent hike. The three countries, all reliant on food imports, also reported sharp currency depreciation. Meanwhile, a drought in Syria has also impacted the country’s annual wheat production. With global prices rising, WFP’s meagre resources for operations in the region, especially in Yemen and Syria, will be under even more pressure than before. In both countries, conflict and the related economic shrinkage have left more than 29 million people in need of food assistance. WFP is supporting nearly 19 million people in the two countries. The global food price hikes and the Ukraine conflict have resulted in WFP facing an additional cost of US$71 million per month for global operations compared to 2019 – a 50% rise. “The Ukraine crisis makes the bad funding situation worse. There are immediate humanitarian needs that demand attention. Donors have in recent years helped us provide food to millions in the region. Now the situation is critical and it’s time to be even more generous,” Ms. Fleischer added. WFP said it currently has only 24 percent of the funding it needs in Syria and 31 percent of what it needs in Yemen. Due to funding constraints, WFP has already been forced to reduce food rations in both countries. Further reductions risk pushing people towards starvation, the agency said.