GENEVA (28 August 2020) – The international community must urgently step up its assistance and support to Lebanon and to international reconstruction and humanitarian agencies to prevent people throughout Lebanon from going hungry as a result of the 4 August explosion at the Port of Beirut, a UN human rights expert warned today.
“The explosion destroyed the country’s main source of food and has further pushed Lebanon to the brink of a hunger crisis,” warned Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food. “Lebanon’s food system has always been fragile because it relies on imports for 85 percent of its food. The situation has become dire now because the Port of Beirut handled approximately 70 percent of the country’s total imports before the explosion.”
In addition to deaths and injuries, the explosion destroyed 15 000 tonnes of wheat kernel and barley stored in silos at the port. Lebanon does not have a national grain reserve and without support, the country could run out of flour by the middle of September. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing economic crisis, people, especially the most vulnerable, are already struggling to access food.
“A hunger crisis to this degree is always caused by systemic national and international political failure, and this is definitely the case in Lebanon,” Fakhri said.
“An increasing number of people are being forced to compromise on the quantity or quality of food they eat, or go for days without eating,” Fakhri said. “It’s urgent that the international community step up now and use multilateral institutions to help reconstruct Lebanon’s food and agriculture systems.”
Fakhri called on all UN institutions dealing with food and agriculture – the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development and Committee on World Food Security – to help all people in Lebanon.
Specifically, he commended the WFP for its plan to expand its cash-assistance program in the country. The WFP must ensure that this cash be distributed fairly to all people in need in the entire country regardless of their legal or personal status. Fakhri added that in light of the collapse of the Lebanese pound these cash transfers – which are currently in pounds – should be in U.S. dollars.
He called on the International Fund for Agriculture to help create a national development agricultural bank to serve Lebanese farmers who sell to local and regional markets, something farmers have already asked for. The Fund should also help create long-term stockpiles to provide essential food to people for free or at subsidized prices.
The FAO should help farmers, fishers and pastoralists in Lebanon transition to agroecological practices and strengthen their access to local and regional markets. Fakhri also called on the Committee on World Food Security to help the Lebanese people create mechanisms that hold international organizations and the Lebanese government accountable on food issues.
“The long-term solution for Lebanon’s food system must be anchored in human rights,” Fakhri said. “This means increasing national agricultural production in a way that enhances peasants’ and rural workers’ rights, improving local food producers’ connection to local and regional markets, increasing biodiversity, and meeting local cultural and nutritional needs.”
The Special Rapporteur has directly raised the issue with the Government of Lebanon and brought to attention its obligation to respect, protect and fulfil people’s right to food.
Michael Fakhri was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food by the Human Rights Council in March 2020 and assumed his functions on 1 May 2020. He is a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law where he teaches courses on human rights, food law, development, and commercial law. He holds a Doctorate from the University of Toronto, Masters from Harvard Law School, Bachelor of Laws from Queen's University, and a Bachelor of Science in Ecology from Western University.
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