Tunisia Faces Food Shortages And Rising Food Costs
In recent weeks, Tunisians have faced rising food costs and shortages of basic staples, threatening to escalate the country’s simmering unrest and make it the epicenter of the Arab Spring demonstrations.
Stores that sell sugar, vegetable oil, rice, and bottled water occasionally stop selling them, with their shelves empty of products.
People wait in line for hours for these basic foods, which have long been subsidized and are increasingly available in rations.
Even when these products are available in stores, many people cannot afford the exorbitant prices.
Economic experts claim that Tunisia’s problems have been exacerbated by the government’s budget crisis and inability to negotiate a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The government has also blamed speculators, hoarders on the black market, and the conflict in Ukraine for their inflation and shortage crisis.
Fighting breaks out in the queues at grocery stores periodically, and there have been rallies and run-ins with the law nationwide in response to increased prices and shortages.
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After authorities seized the scales he used to weigh his goods, a young fruit vendor who was selling on the street recently committed suicide in a suburb of Tunis.
His act of desperation brought to mind Mohamed Bouazizi’s 2010 self-immolation, which spurred riots that led to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s downfall and inspired comparable uprisings around the Arab world.
In order to ensure that there would be no shortages during Mouled, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, the Ministry of Commerce announced last month that 20,000 tons of sugar would be imported from India.
However, the night before the celebration, people lined up in front of stores in hopes of securing a package of sugar, a necessary ingredient in preparing traditional dishes for the religious feast.
In addition to a shortage of food, there is also a supply shortage of energy resources. Tunisia relies significantly on imports, comparable to those of its neighbors Algeria and Libya, and its protracted economic problems mean it has little negotiating power in global markets to get the items it needs.
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According to the National Institute of Statistics, inflation has reached a record high of 9.1%, the highest level in thirty years.
Over the past year, Kas Saied, the President of Tunisia, has gained power over the nation after ousting the prime minister and dismissing parliament. He stated that the measures were necessary to preserve the nation from a protracted political and economic catastrophe, and many Tunisians agreed. However, detractors and Western allies fear that the power grab endangers Tunisia’s budding democracy.
Saied blames “speculators” and individuals who have a monopoly on items they stockpile in illegal depots for the shortage of food supplies and the increase in costs.
To address a fiscal deficit made worse by the COVID-19 outbreak and the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the government is now in negotiations with the IMF for a $2 billion to $4 billion loan. A senior Tunisian delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. in an effort to seal the deal.