Rapid Assessment: The impact of the conflict in Ukraine as a crisis multiplier in the Middle East and North Africa, IFRC MENA Regional Delegation, 8 June 2022

Human Rights

This rapid assessment has the overall goal to contribute to the ongoing analysis and MENA scenario development to anticipate, prepare, and respond to evolving crisis trends in the MENA region, with specific considerations how the conflict in Ukraine is a risk multiplier to existing crisis trends. The assessment was carried out by an external consultant between 25 April and 03 June 2022, using secondary data and a perception survey of 22 representatives of Host National Societies and IFRC Delegations at country level. Key findings of the assessment include:


Overall crisis environment – The MENA region continues to face multiple and complex crises, conflicts, and displacement. The needs of affected populations are increasing in severity and scale and are aggravated by macroeconomic decline, chronic underdevelopment, climate-change, natural disasters, and diseases. Over 55 million people across the region need humanitarian assistance, including more than twelve million internally displaced people.


The assessment confirmed that the conflict in Ukraine intensifies the impact of these pre-existing crises trends and makes countries more vulnerable. The more a country is already affected by multiple, pre-existing crisis factors, the higher the impact of the conflict in Ukraine is expected to be. The assessment also supported the categorization of MENA countries into three crisis categories. The overall impact of multiple, aggregated crisis factors is higher in Syria, Yemen, and Libya (“Critical Crises”), when compared to Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq (“Chronic Crises”), and Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Jordan, and Morocco (“Contained Crises”).


Humanitarian funding – The conflict in Ukraine is bound to push several MENA countries down the priority list for donor governments, international institutions, and global media. For the millions of Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenis, Syrians, and others who live in countries experiencing conflict, catastrophic economic meltdowns, and increasing humanitarian needs, this would be equivalent to shutting down critical life support. Even before the Ukraine conflict, funding shortages were leading to curtailed programmes and cut rations in responses.


The impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the availability of humanitarian funding is rated as particularly severe in Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Yemen, and strong in Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. Nine countries already experienced a drop in funding because of the Ukraine conflict. Ten out of twelve MENA countries expect this negative humanitarian funding trend to continue over the next six months, with an expected funding drop of 25% and up to 75% (Egypt).


Civil unrest and conflict potential – The reverberations of the conflict in Ukraine into the MENA region could serve as the catalyst for a next wave of uprisings among fragile states. Similarities can be drawn with the lead-up to the Arab uprisings, where socioeconomic frustrations and a lack of political reform prompted people to take to the streets. With rising food prices and the imposition of taxes, coupled with a general lack of political reform, the latent anger that caused the protests of 2010-2011 may once more manifest in unrest. In nine out of twelve MENA countries an increasing risk of civil unrest and conflict is expected, especially in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. These increased risk levels cannot be attributed only to the impact of the conflict in Ukraine.


Each crisis factor has a cumulative effect and is contributing to the overall, complex crises environment. However, the conflict in Ukraine has been one of the most prominent developments over the past three months and could be a major contributor to an increased risk of social unrest and conflict. In that sense, the conflict in Ukraine and its subsequent global economic and security impact could be the proverbial last straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing already fragile countries over the tipping point. The preparedness and response capacity of the National Societies in terms of increasing risks of social unrest and conflict are seen as moderate in seven MENA countries, and high in Lebanon, Algeria, Iran, and Jordan. The capacity is seen as low in Palestine.


Food Security – MENA economies are impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, especially countries who primarily rely on these two countries for their food imports. This increases the risk of a food crisis in the next six months. All twelve MENA countries experienced an increase in the prices for basic food items. The sharpest increase has been reported in Lebanon (75-100%), followed by Iran and Yemen (50-75% increase), while in other countries prices increased by 25-50%. All countries await this negative trend to continue, with an expected price increase of 25-50% during the next six months.


The lack of affordable food is affecting the people in all twelve countries, and most severely in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, but also in Lebanon, which indicates a particularly steep decline of the socio-economic situation in this country. Also in Palestine, food security is worsening at an alarming rate. The effects of the conflict in Ukraine coincide with a severe drought in Iran, Iraq, and Morocco, hampering domestic production. Egypt, the world’s top importer of wheat, is planning to expand wheat cultivation by the end of 2024, which does not ease immediate vulnerabilities. Tunisia, whose economy is already under strain, receives nearly 80% of its wheat from Ukraine. As a result, wheat prices are the highest in fourteen years. Jordan and Algeria are less exposed than other MENA countries to the economic impact of the conflict in Ukraine. The preparedness and response capacity of the National Societies in terms of food security is diverse. The capacity is the lowest in Palestine, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Tunisia, and highest in Lebanon, Iraq, and Algeria.


Agriculture – Agriculture production in MENA countries will be severely affected by the combination of disrupted supply chains, increased costs of energy (both impacted by the conflict in Ukraine), and water scarcity, and increasing temperatures (both are climate- change related). The impact of these stress factors on agricultural production are the highest in “Critical Crisis” contexts, and the lowest in “Contained Crisis” contexts. The aggregated crisis factors that are affecting the agricultural production are surprisingly high in Tunisia, reportedly at the same level as Libya.


Ten MENA countries (all except Algeria and Jordan) believe that agricultural production will become worse over the next six months. The preparedness and response capacity of National Societies in terms of agricultural livelihood support is the lowest, when compared to their capacity in other thematic areas, as most National Societies do not focus on this area.


Health and wellbeing – Access to health services is expected to continue deteriorating over the next six months in the MENA region, which is expected to have severe consequences in several countries. The lack of affordable health services is affecting all MENA countries, amplified by the shrinking purchasing power of households because of the impact of the economic crisis, to which the Ukraine crisis is a major contributing factor. The lack of affordable health services has the most severe impact in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. The preparedness and response capacity of the HNS in terms of Health support is the highest, when compared to other thematic areas. The capacity is seen as the highest in Lebanon and the lowest in Yemen, Morocco, and Tunisia.


Migration and displacement – The already dire situation in several MENA countries hosting vulnerable refugees and migrants and is expected to deteriorate further because of humanitarian funding shortfalls, especially in Lebanon. The country has absorbed considerable numbers but has been unable to accommodate their needs, and 70% of Syrian refugees have received no assistance since the beginning of 2021. In seven countries the situation of vulnerable migrants and refugees is expected to get worse (Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Tunisia, and Yemen) or much worse (Algeria and Egypt). The preparedness and response capacity of the National Societies for such a scenario is seen as moderate in six, and high in four MENA countries. Only in Yemen the capacity of the National Society to support vulnerable migrants and refugees is rated low.


It is also worthwhile noting that several Arab countries have large numbers of students in Ukraine, including Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia, many of which were forced to flee from Ukraine, experiencing racism and lack of access to rights and assistance, when compared to Ukrainian refugees.


Internal displacement – The events in Ukraine increase the risk of conflict and social unrest in the MENA region, which could also trigger involuntary population movements. Taking the increase in risk of social unrest and conflict in combination with the projected rise in food insecurity into account, such a development cannot be ruled out as a mid- term scenario for several countries. The risk of new displacement is the highest in Syria, where Turkey announced in May its intention to launch another military campaign in the Northwest.


Another scenario would be that may seek to pressure Turkey with escalation in the Northwest and the threat of a refugee influx. A similar scenario is possible for Libya. In five out of six IDP-hosting countries in the region the humanitarian situation of IDPs is expected to worsen over the next six months. The preparedness and response capacity of National Societies for such a scenario is seen as high in six, moderate in four countries, and very low in Morocco.


Energy – As a direct consequence of the Ukraine conflict, Europe is seeking alternative gas resources to become more independent from n supplies. Regional oil and gas exporters like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Algeria are expected to benefit from higher export earnings in the short and medium term. In contrast, energy and oil- importing countries in the region experience negative outcomes leading to additional social stress, and high prices will increase socio-economic risks. This negative trend is expected to continue over the next six months.


In Syria and Yemen, fuel shortages and lack of electricity already impact severely the delivery of basic services. The compounded crisis trends in Lebanon, including the sharp increase in energy prices resulting from the Ukraine crisis, have the potential to push the country over the tipping point to become again a “Critical Crisis”.


GCC States – As oil and gas exporters, the GCC States will benefit from the increase in oil and gas prices because of the Ukraine crisis. With their small populations, high per capita income, and large grain storage facilities, the Gulf Arab states have more buffers than many other countries protecting them from supply shocks and price increases in agricultural commodities.


GCC National Societies have an important enabler role in dialogue with their governments and other domestic partners to influence their decisions towards funding the Red Pillar. The impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the availability of international funding necessitates more efforts by GCC National Societies to advocate for funding to National Societies in MENA countries.


In addition, the GCC National Societies are also encouraged to investigate opportunities to provide more assistance to vulnerable migrants, guest workers, and low-income households in their own countries. The capacity of the National Societies to mobilize humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities in the Gulf region and to advocate for more government and private sector funding to address priority gaps in MENA countries is considered very high.


Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies