The President addresses NATO and EU leaders saying ‘food shortages are going to be real’ and pledges humanitarian aid for the displaced

Rev 6:6 NAS And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Biden warns food shortages are ‘going to be real’ across the globe because of Putin invading the world’s ‘breadbasket’ Ukraine
  • The United States, through the Feed the Future initiative, will provide over $11 billion over the next five years to address food security threat
  • The United States will accept up 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in the Ukraine, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.
  • Russia and Ukraine jointly account for around 25% of world wheat exports and 16% of world corn exports, leading to surging prices for the grains
  • A senior administration told reporters in a briefing on Thursday that Russia’s invasion ‘jeopardizes global food security, particularly for vulnerable populations in the Middle East and Africa’ as farms are being destroyed.
  • Russia is also one of the world’s largest suppliers of fertilizer – prices of which had already spiked last year, contributing to a 30% increase in world food prices and a related increase in global hunger levels.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Floods cut off communities in South Sudan’s Unity state

By Denis Dumo

JUBA (Reuters) – Severe flooding has hit South Sudan’s northern state of Unity, cutting off communities from accessing supplies of food and other vital commodities, a state official said on Friday.

More than 700,000 people have been affected by the worst flooding in the country for nearly 60 years, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in October, blaming climate change.

In Unity, which borders Sudan, the floods have left a trail of food shortages, caused malnutrition in children and increased the spread of diseases such as malaria, said Lam Tungwar Kueigwong, the state’s minister of land, housing and public utilities.

Oil from the fields in the region had contaminated the water, he said, leading to the death of domestic animals.

The suffering caused by the floods, including food shortages and illnesses, is putting pressure on the health facilities, said international charity Médecins Sans Frontières, which operates in the area.

“We are extremely concerned about malnutrition, with severe acute malnutrition levels two times the WHO threshold, and the number of children admitted to our hospital with severe malnutrition doubling since the start of the floods,” MSF said.

For Nyatuak Koang, a mother of three boys and two girls, that concern is all too real for her after the floods forced her to move twice.

“We don’t have anywhere to sleep, we don’t have any mosquito nets and we don’t have material to cover our house,” she said.

Nearly a decade after South Sudan gained independence following a war, it faces the threat of conflict, climate change and COVID-19, the outgoing head of the U.N. mission in the country said in March.

Nearly all the population depends on international food aid, and most basic services such as health and education are provided by the United Nations agencies and aid groups.

(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Don’t panic buy, Britain tells consumers as BP shuts gas stations

By Guy Faulconbridge, James Davey and Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) -Oil giant BP said on Thursday it was having to temporarily close some petrol filling stations in Britain because of a lack of truck drivers, hours after a junior minister cautioned the public not to panic buy amid fears of food shortages.

Small Business Minister Paul Scully said Britain was not heading back into a 1970’s-style “winter of discontent” of strikes and power shortages amid widespread problems caused by supply chain issues.

Soaring wholesale European natural gas prices have sent shockwaves through energy, chemicals and steel producers, and strained supply chains which were already creaking due to insufficient labor and the tumult of Brexit.

After gas prices triggered a carbon dioxide shortage, Britain was forced to extend emergency state support to avert a shortage of poultry and meat.

Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket group, told government officials last week the dearth of truck drivers would lead to panic-buying in the run-up to Christmas if no action was taken.

Supermarket shelves of carbonated drinks and water were left empty in some places and turkey producers have warned that families could be left without their traditional turkey lunch at Christmas if the carbon dioxide shortage continues.

In a further sign of worsening supply chain dislocation, BP temporarily closed some of its 1,200 UK petrol stations due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades, which it blamed on driver shortages.

ExxonMobil’s Esso said a small number of its 200 Tesco Alliance retail sites had also been impacted.

“There is no need for people to go out and panic buy,” Scully told Times Radio.

“Look, this isn’t a 1970s thing at all,” he said when asked if Britain was heading back into a winter of discontent – a reference to the 1978-79 winter when inflation and industrial action left the economy in chaos.

The Bank of England said inflation would temporarily rise above 4% for the first time in a decade later this year, largely due to energy and goods prices.

A Tesco spokesperson said the group currently had good availability though it said the shortage of HGV drivers had led to “some distribution challenges.” A spokesperson for No. 2 player Sainsbury’s said “availability in some product categories may vary but alternatives are available.” Supermarkets and farmers have called on Britain to ease shortages of labor in key areas – particularly of truckers, processing and picking – which have strained the food supply chain.

LABOR CRUNCH

The trucking industry needs another 90,000 drivers to meet demand after Brexit made it harder for European workers to drive in Britain and the pandemic prevented new workers from qualifying.

“My business has about 100 HGV drivers short, and that is making it increasingly very, very difficult to service our shops,” said Richard Walker, managing director at supermarket Iceland, adding that deliveries were being cancelled.

“It is a concern and as we look to build stock as an industry, to work towards our bumper time of year, Christmas, we’re now facing this shortage at the worst possible time. I am worried.”

The National Farmers’ Union has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him to urgently introduce a new visa system to help tackle labor shortages across the supply chain.

COAL POWER?

The rise in natural gas prices is adding to the sense of chaos. Six energy suppliers have gone out of business this month, leaving nearly 1.5 million customers facing a rise in bills.

Just over a month before Johnson hosts world leaders at a United Nations climate conference, known as COP26, power generator Drax Group Plc said it could keep its coal-fired power plants operating beyond their planned closure next year.

Britain is having talks with the energy regulator Ofgem about whether or not a cap on gas and electricity prices for consumers may have to go up, Scully said.

The cap was brought in to stop energy companies gouging consumers but has now turned their businesses unprofitable as it is below the wholesale price.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told parliament the government would not bail out failed energy companies and would not offer grants or subsidies to larger energy companies.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton, James Davey and Michael Holden; editing by Angus MacSwan, Elaine Hardcastle and Nick Macfie)

World wary of Taliban government, Afghans urge action on rights and economy

(Reuters) – Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay on Wednesday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to top positions, including several with a U.S. bounty on their head.

Small protests persisted in Afghanistan, with dozens of women taking to the streets of Kabul to demand representation in the new administration and for their rights to be protected.

More broadly, people urged the new leaders to revive the Afghan economy, which is facing steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of overseas investment disappearing as the outside world eyes the Taliban warily.

The Islamist militant movement swept to power nearly four weeks ago in a stunning victory hastened by the withdrawal of U.S. military support to Afghan government forces.

It has taken time to form a government, and although the posts are acting rather than final, the appointment of a cabinet of hardline veterans has been seen by other nations as a signal that the Taliban are not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world.

The group has promised to respect people’s rights and not seek vendettas, but it has been criticized for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in a chaotic evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Kabul airport.

“The announcement of a transitional government without the participation of other groups and yesterday’s violence against demonstrators and journalists in Kabul are not signals that give cause for optimism,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

The European Union voiced its disapproval at the appointments, announced late on Tuesday in Kabul, but said it was ready to continue humanitarian assistance. Longer term aid would depend on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.

The U.S. State Department said it was concerned about the “affiliations and track records” of some of the people named by the Taliban to fill top posts.

“The world is watching closely,” a spokesperson said.

The new acting cabinet includes former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $10 million.

His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.

The Taliban’s sudden victory, which took even its leadership by surprise, has presented the rest of the world with a dilemma.

They want to keep aid flowing and to help those with the appropriate paperwork who want to leave, but they may have to engage with a movement that, until a few weeks ago, was an insurgency blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.

MORE PROTESTS

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from work and girls from school. The group carried out public executions and its religious police enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Taliban leaders have vowed to respect people’s rights, including those of women, in accordance with sharia, but those who have won greater freedoms over the last two decades are worried about losing them.

In Kabul, a group of women bearing signs reading “A cabinet without women is a failure” held another protest in the Pul-e Surkh area of the city. Larger demonstrations on Tuesday were broken up when Taliban gunmen fired warning shots into the air.

“The cabinet was announced and there were no women in the cabinet. And some journalists who came to cover the protest were all arrested and taken to the police station,” said a woman in a video shared on social media.

Zaki Daryabi, head of the daily newspaper Etilaatroz, said some of his reporters had been beaten while covering Tuesday’s protests, which came hours before the new government was revealed.

Taliban officials have said that protests would be allowed, but that they must be announced in advance and authorized.

For many Afghans, more pressing than the composition of the cabinet was the economic fallout of the chaos triggered by the Taliban’s conquest, including its impact on healthcare.

Shukrullah Khan, manager of a restaurant at Qargha Lake, a popular local resort near Kabul, said business had slumped to next to nothing.

“The business and bazaars compared to the previous government, has been decreased by 98%,” he said.

“The banks are closed, there’s no jobs, people no longer spend money. Where does the money come from so that people can have fun here?”

Aid flights have begun to arrive at Kabul airport, but many more will be needed over the coming months.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed to other humanitarian organizations to return to Afghanistan and for the World Bank to unlock funds to support the tottering healthcare system.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

South Africa’s big retail chains race to restock looted stores

By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s big retailers are working round the clock to replenish shelves with food in hundreds of stores looted this week in some of the country’s worst unrest for years, they said on Friday.

Retailers also said they are racing to keep stores unaffected by the violence stocked as some shoppers were stripping shelves with panic buying, though blocked roads and disruptions to supply chains were hampering their efforts.

Retailers were just starting to recover from months of coronavirus restrictions when the violence triggered by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma erupted and the looting could now set them back several months.

Massmart, which is majority owned by U.S. retail giant Walmart Inc, said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two of its distribution centers, with four sites suffering significant damage from arson.

TFG, the owner of Foschini clothing and @home chains, said 190 stores had been looted and damaged to varying degrees. All its stores in KwaZulu-Natal province are shut.

“The timeline to reopen will be quick in some locations whilst in others it will be dependent on the nature and extent of the damage and on the availability of the relevant resources and supply chains,” TFG said.

Pepkor, which is majority owned by Steinhoff International, said 489 stores, representing about 9% of its retail outlets, had been damaged and looted as well as one of the JD Group’s distribution centers in KwaZulu-Natal.

Pepkor’s supply chain and distribution operations in the affected areas have been severely disrupted, it said.

All three retailers, as well as grocery chains Pick n Pay, Shoprite and SPAR Group, whose 184 stores were looted and vandalized, said the priority was to replenish shelves as concerns about food shortages mount.

SPAR trucks were dispatched on Friday with security escorts and the chain said it would try to restock all its KwaZulu-Natal stores open for business over the weekend.

Woolworths said it was working closely with suppliers to make sure its stores were stocked.

“This is largely dependent on the reopening of key transport routes, the ability of local suppliers to continue production, the ability of our staff to access our stores and the safety of our logistics and distribution operations,” it said.

(Additional reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Jason Neely and David Clarke)

Syria opposition leader says Assad election to worsen country’s plight

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) – A “sham” election designed to prolong President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on Syria shows that only international pressure for a U.N.-backed peace plan can pave the way for democratic rule, a Damascus-based secular opposition leader said.

Lawyer Hassan Abdul Azim of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change added that Wednesday’s vote would only worsen the plight of a country afflicted by hunger, poverty and an “authoritarian regime”.

“This insistence on clinging to power does not bring stability,” Abdul Azim told Reuters in a phone interview, referring to acute fuel and food shortages and sky-rocketing inflation that has pushed most Syrians deeper into poverty.

“These sham elections show the regime does not want a political solution and the situation will worsen,” said Abdul Azim, the committee’s general coordinator.

“People are now dying of hunger.”

Unrepentant, Assad says Syrians made their feelings clear by coming out in large rallies to support the election. Addressing his critics as he voted, he said: “The value of your opinions is zero. “Abdul Azim’s committee, whose leaders are based mainly in Syria, was set up in the aftermath of pro-democracy protests in March 2011 that spiraled into a devastating war that killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

It is a coalition of mainly outlawed opposition parties inside Syria bringing together liberals, leftists and nationalists who demand real democratic change.

Syria’s political future, he argues, rests on major powers pushing forward stalled U.N. Security Council resolution 2254 that paves the way for a transitional government and free and fair elections under U.N. supervision.

“It would be real elections with competing candidates and not ones whose results are known beforehand,” Abdul Azim said of peace plan, negotiated in 2015 in a rare show of unity among major powers.

The prominent opposition figure spent several years in prison during the long decades of Assad family rule.

Abdul Azim blamed the president for wrecking several rounds of Syria Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva since October 2019 that brought together the opposition and the government to draft a new constitution.

UNIFYING OPPOSITION RANKS

Abdul Azim said the mainly domestic opposition parties made major strides in unifying their ranks this month by forming the broad based National Democratic Front (JOOD) coalition. The grouping represents about 15 political parties from a wide spectrum of groups both inside Syria and outside.

After security forces prevented them from holding a founding meeting in Damascus on March 26, a virtual meeting was held on May 18 that will hold a wider conference sometime between mid-June and the first half of July where it will approve its leadership structure, he added.

Abdul Azim and his allies had earlier parted ways with other opposition figures over the nature of opposition to Assad, with Abdul Aziz and his partners advocating peaceful protests and rejecting foreign intervention and an armed insurgency.

They later joined the Riyadh-based High Negotiation Committee that included the Istanbul-based based opposition backed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Western enemies of Assad who for years financed mainstream rebel groups.

Abdul Azim said their meeting last week endorsed a political program in line with the U.N. peace plan that would allow the return of millions of Syrians who fled or were displaced and have so far resisted returning for fear of reprisals.

“We seek fundamental democratic change that ends the existing authoritarian regime with all its symbols,” he said.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by William Maclean)

Shaken by new coronavirus strain, world shuts the door on Britain

By Gerhard Mey and Ben Makori

DOVER, England (Reuters) – Several countries closed their borders to Britain on Monday over fears of a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, causing travel chaos and raising the prospect of food shortages just days before the UK is set to leave the European Union.

India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned a mutated variant of the virus, up to 70% more transmissible, had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.

Several other nations blocked travel from Britain over the weekend, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Canada – although experts said the strain may already be circulating in countries with less advanced detection methods than the United Kingdom.

The discovery of the new strain, just months before vaccines are expected to be widely available, sowed fresh panic in a pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Britain.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the U.S. government to take steps to prevent the variant entering the country, which has been worst hit by COVID-19 with almost 318,000 deaths.

“It’s high time the federal government takes swift action, because today that variant is getting on a plane and landing in JFK, and all it takes is one person,” he said.

U.S. Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir said nothing had yet been decided on any travel ban. As the pandemic accelerates there, Congress was poised to vote on a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package, after months of inaction.

EU officials met via video link to coordinate their response to the new strain of the coronavirus. The bloc is on course to start COVID-19 vaccinations within a week after its medicines regulator approved the use of a shot from Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday.

Experts said there was no evidence that vaccines would not protect against this variant, but added they were working around the clock to determine whether the mutations would affect how well the shots guarded against infection.

“Since the three vaccine forerunners target the spike protein, how the variant responds to the vaccines and the protection that the vaccine will offer does still need to be examined in detail,” said Saad Shakir, a professor and director at Britain’s drug safety research unit.

FOOD SHORTAGES WARNING

France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from Britain, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe.

“No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up,” France’s FNTR national road-haulage federation said.

As families and truck drivers tried to navigate the travel bans to get back home in time for Christmas, British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s said shortages would start to appear within days if transport ties were not quickly restored.

“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” Sainsbury’s said.

The global alarm was reflected in financial markets.

European shares slumped, with travel and leisure stocks bearing the brunt; British Airways-owner IAG and easyJet dropped about 7%, while Air France KLM lost around 3%.

Wall Street also felt the pain, with losses across the board. The S&P 1500 airlines index slid 3%, while leading cruise operators fell about 4%.

The British pound tumbled 2.5% against the dollar at one point before paring some of the losses, while the yield on two-year UK government bonds hit a record low.

‘SICK MAN OF EUROPE’

Johnson cancelled Christmas plans for millions of British people on Saturday due to the more infectious strain of the coronavirus, though he said there was no evidence that it was either more lethal or caused a more severe illness.

Britain’s tabloids bemoaned the crisis.

“Sick Man of Europe,” the Daily Mirror newspaper said on its front page beside a picture of Johnson, while the Sun newspaper said “French show no merci.”

The new variant and restrictions in Britain compound the chaos as the country prepares to finally part ways with the European Union, possibly without a trade deal, when the Brexit transition period at 2300 GMT on Dec. 31.

Talks on a Brexit trade deal were due to continue on Monday.

The new variant, which scientists said was 40%-70% more transmissible, is rapidly become the dominant strain in parts of southern England, including London.

Experts tracking the new strain said there was some early but unconfirmed evidence that it could transmit as readily among children as among adults, unlike previous dominant strains that appeared to be more easily able to infect adults.

‘2020 NOT DONE WITH US’

Cases of the new strain have also been detected in some other countries, including Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands.

Australia said two people who travelled from the United Kingdom to New South Wales, its most populous state, were carrying the mutated virus. It axed dozens of domestic flights while New South Wales locked down more than 250,000 people.

“2020 is not done with us yet,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Some scientists said the prevalence discovered in Britain might be down to detection.

“Britain is simply the country which finds these mutations the most because they are looking for them more. There are countries that hardly search or do not search at all,” Marc Van Ranst, a virologist from the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium, told broadcaster VRT.

“I think we will find in the coming days that a lot of other countries will find it.”

(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland, Toby Melville and James Davey in London, Laurence Frost in Paris, Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore, Frank McGurty in New York, Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha in Seoul, Renju Jose in Sydney, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai and Farah Master in Hong Kong; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Pravin Char; Editing by Alison Williams and Mike Collett-White)

Islamist violence escalates in Burkina Faso, making widespread hunger worse

By Edward McAllister

DORI, Burkina Faso (Reuters) – Habibou Sore had to pause for breath as she ran barefoot from the approaching gunmen. She was pregnant with twins, due any day.

Soon after arriving at a nearby town in northern Burkina Faso, her feet cut and swollen, Sore gave birth. Then her battle with hunger began.

Attacks by Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed thousands of people this year in Africa’s Sahel region, an arid belt to the south of the Sahara Desert.

The escalating bloodshed has worsened food shortages that threaten millions in a region already hit by climate change, poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sixteen months after fleeing her village, Sore lives with relatives in the town of Pisilla and eats one small meal a day.

Her twin sons Hassan and Housein each weigh 7 kg (15.5 pounds), the equivalent of a healthy 4-month-old. Their bony legs are covered in sores, their scalps bare in patches. They scream for the milk their mother cannot provide.

“I am worried about them,” Sore said, as she rocked the boys on her lap in a clinic in the town of Kaya, surrounded by paintings showing mothers how to breastfeed and the foods required for a balanced diet. “They are not doing well.”

Over 7 million people face acute hunger in a vast area comprising landlocked Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, as armed groups cut off access to supplies and farmland, figures from the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) show.

Burkina Faso is deteriorating fastest. Over half a million children under 5 are acutely malnourished, U.N. figures show. WFP said in October that over 10,000 people were “one step short of famine”.

“This year has been worse than anything we have seen in the last decade, a worsening situation that is obviously connected to growing conflicts,” said Christelle Hure, spokeswoman for the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council, which offers shelter for the displaced.

‘GREAT LOSS’

This summer’s rainy season was one of the heaviest in years, bringing life to the hilly northern savannah where neem, eucalyptus and acacia trees tower over a sea of waist-high golden grass. Farmers say the conditions are perfect for crops and cattle – if only they could reach them.

Sayouba Zabre should be harvesting 10 hectares of millet and sorghum and tending dozens of cattle near his hometown in the Soum region. Instead he is in a camp for displaced people in the Center-North region after fleeing an attack this year.

Camp residents collect wood and dry hibiscus pods on the roofs of their makeshift tents – anything to make money. Zabre planted millet and peanuts, but it is not enough to feed his family.

“This is a great loss. There is a lot out there this year,” he said, referring to his farm. “I should be there.”

Many citizens rely on food from aid agencies that cannot reach some of the worst-hit areas.

Twice this year, food deliveries were hijacked, said Antoine Renard, WFP’s country director in Burkina Faso.

Dozens of health facilities have closed and about 200 others are operating at minimum staff levels, government figures show.

Malnutrition is overwhelming the clinic in Kaya where Sore took her twins. Before the crisis, it had about 30 child patients. Now it has 500.

“Every day we take children, every day we have severe cases,” said midwife Aminata Zabre.

Mothers come regularly for sachets of baby food, though sometimes there is little improvement.

“I asked one woman ‘why is your child still coming to us?’,” Zabre said. “She told me her father-in-law was eating the child’s rations.”

(Reporting By Edward McAllister; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Cubans cast aside coronavirus fears to search for scarcer food

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – From the seafront capital Havana to the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains, Cubans are defying fear of the new coronavirus to search for food as global trade disruptions worsen shortages of basic goods on the Caribbean island.

Residents of all ages are trudging from store to store in the country to locate scarce goods despite recommendations from health experts to stay at home and respect social distancing guidelines to avoid contracting the highly contagious disease.

Communist-run Cuba imports more than 60% of its food, but the pandemic has forced its government to close the borders, denying it the hard currency from tourism needed to pay for goods from overseas. The leisure industry accounts for 25% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

With shortages biting, many residents are using apps to swarm shops when coveted products arrive – from chicken and cheese to powdered milk and tomato sauce – creating long lines on the streets of Havana where police attempt to keep order.

While Cuba has faced scattered shortages ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union began in 1989, they have worsened since a decline in aid from socialist ally Venezuela and a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Now they are intensifying as the pandemic compounds Cuba’s cash crunch and disrupts international trade and food prices.

“There is a queue for everything, products are scarce,” Havana resident Luis Alberto said as he waited in a line for chicken that stretched for more than 100 meters (330 ft).

Since the first coronavirus cases were logged on the island last month, authorities have closed the borders to people and called on Cubans to only go out if strictly necessary, always wearing face masks. Disinfectant has been included on the ration cards that residents use to obtain goods.

“No one is walking around except the family doctor and nurse,” Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser, said from a medium-sized town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Granma province.

“But when some ground meat finally arrived the other day everyone emerged from their homes in masks and lined up with a policeman keeping order,” she said.

A soldier organizes a line of people to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

‘PERFECT STORM BREWING’

President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently warned citizens they would be consuming less imported food “due to the current situation.”

When ships arrived last week with corn and rice, it was big news in the state-run media.

Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or other multilateral lending institutions it could turn to for emergency funds.

Economy Minister Alejandro Gil has said the only solution is to “find in agriculture the main source of food for the people” but the sector is suffering an intensifying lack of inputs – like fertilizer and pesticides – partly due to U.S. sanctions.

“There is a perfect storm brewing. By May, the food situation here will be much worse,” a local agricultural expert said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.

FOOD PRODUCTION IN TROUBLE

Cuba is famous for fighting epidemics and infamous for its centralized and unproductive Soviet-style agricultural system long since jettisoned by other Communist-run countries.

Many express faith in the former and not the latter.

“Cuba has the virus under control and I am sure it will stay that way,” said Emandez Maseo, a teacher in eastern Cuba. “At the same time, we are going into a critical situation, there is nothing in the markets and it is getting worse.”

Cuba has reported 396 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths, all but a few linked to travelers entering from abroad.

Much of the economy not related to tourism remains open, but it is hard to see agricultural production making up for lower imports.

Just 40% of normal fuel supplies and even less fertilizer and pesticides were used for the winter crop, according to the government. Planting began before the pandemic in November and harvesting ended in March.

The government has not reported on the results of Cuba’s most important growing season. Agriculture ministry official Yojan García Rodas told local radio that farmers were able to plant less than half the planned acreage of beans – a local staple – because they had to use oxen to till the land due to lack of fuel.

Speaking about a plague that wiped out much of the crop, Rodas said only 15% of the 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) planted could be protected by chemical pesticides.

Luis Enrique Plutin, a farmer working the fields under a hot sun with fellow cooperative members on the outskirts of Havana, was phlegmatic.

“Through sacrifice and work we can produce something, but not much, for the population,” he said. “And we can continue to produce more, but imagine the difficulties we have.”

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

Food shortages cripple Bolivia, new elections still uncertain

By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivians languished in long lines on the streets of La Paz on Sunday to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales crippled the country’s highways, isolating population centers from lowland farms.

Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the government of interim President Jeanine Anez had established an “air bridge” to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass barricades on highways surrounding the highland capital. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

Bolivia remained in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic leftist and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote-tampering. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday. But his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

Some Morales supporters have demanded Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, resign. They have given her a deadline of midnight on Monday to step down, and have called for elections in 90 days.

As roadblocks take their toll, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighborhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook over firewood.

“I hope things calm down,” said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighborhood. “We’re not getting any food or gasoline.”

Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike Monday, raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

POLICY RESET

Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez’s government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales’ resignation.

The Anez administration on Sunday renamed the state newspaper “Bolivia.” Morales called it “Change.”

Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales’ supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.

The local ombudsman in the Cochabamba region said police had used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.

Morales, in exile in Mexico, has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days, saying he would sit out the next election in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups this week to end the violence and push for “free and transparent elections.”

The European Union ambassador to Bolivia Leon de la Torre also met with Anez Sunday.

He said the E.U. would provide support during the “transition period” and work to ensure “credible elections…under the most stringent international standards.”

The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Britain and Germany have also recognized Anez´s interim government.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)