CAIRO – Poverty and food insecurity in Egypt have risen significantly over the last three years according to joint reports released today by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the government’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
A report by WFP and CAPMAS found that an estimated 13.7 million Egyptians (or 17 percent of the population) suffered from food insecurity in 2011, compared to 14 percent in 2009. Food security exists when all people, at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their basic dietary needs. Data shows that between 2009 and 2011, some 15 percent of the population moved into poverty, twice the number who moved out of poverty. Data also suggests that rates of malnutrition, most notably stunting among children aged 6-59 months, are also on the rise.
“This increase in food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty rates has not happened overnight, during this year or even during the past year,” said WFP Egypt Representative and Country Director GianPietro Bordignon. “People’s inability to have adequate and nutritious food is largely attributed to rising poverty rates and a succession of crises from 2005 -- including the avian influenza epidemic in 2006, the food, fuel and financial crises of 2007–09 and a challenging macroeconomic context in recent years.”
Pockets of poverty and food insecurity have emerged in urban areas, where poverty increased by nearly 40 percent (from 11 to 15.3 percent) between 2009 and 2011. While rural Upper Egypt continues to have the highest poverty rate, at 51.5 percent of the population (double the national average), Greater Cairo has a larger number of poor and food-insecure people (approximately 3.5 million).
The average household spends 40.6 percent of its expenditure on food, rising to more than half for the poorest, who are therefore even more vulnerable to food price fluctuations. They buy less expensive, often less nutritious, foods. The findings of The Status of Poverty and Food Security in Egypt: Analysis and Policy Recommendations are based on analysis of the CAPMAS 2011 Household Income and Expenditure and Consumption Survey (HIECS).
The figures also show that stunting in children under five years of age reached 31 percent in 2011 – above the World Health Organization (WHO) “high” range of 30-39 – up from 23 percent in 2005. Stunting, reflecting chronic malnutrition is irreversible and stops children reaching their full physical and mental potential. And in nine governorates across all regions in 2011, just over half of children under five were estimated to suffer from anaemia, classified as a “severe public health problem” by the WHO.
WFP and IFPRI also launched a joint policy paper, Tackling Egypt’s Rising Food Insecurity in Times of Transition which examines food subsidies. Losses across the baladi bread (subsidized traditional Egyptian bread) supply chain, for example, are estimated at 30 percent. The ration card system also suffers from poor and limited targeting; it covers close to 68 percent of the population, but excludes 19 percent of the most vulnerable households.
The paper concludes that while food subsidies have played an important role in protecting the poor from the impact of high food prices, they are not designed to resolve all poverty-related challenges. More targeted food security and nutrition interventions, as well as job-creation initiatives in poorer areas, are required. Reforms to the subsidy system to make it more efficient would allow for savings that could be invested in such interventions.
“Egypt will experience a triple win: fiscal savings, reaching the most vulnerable, and improved nutrition if the current subsidy system is restructured”, said IFPRI Research Fellow Clemens Breisinger. “The current system is not targeted to those who need it the most.”
WFP has been operating in Egypt since 1963 and has provided over US$681 million worth of assistance to the most vulnerable groups in the population. In 2013, more than 650,000 Egyptians will benefit from WFP projects across the country. WFP’s work in Egypt targets the most vulnerable communities with a particular focus in Upper Egypt, aiming at empowering women as well as encouraging education and combating child labour.