Empty shelves and rising prices are testing the patience of Tunisians

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Empty shelves and rising prices are testing the patience of Tunisians

A customer stands in front of empty shelves inside a supermarket in Tunis.

Tunisia-

Food shortages in Tunisia are exacerbated with empty shelves in supermarkets and bakeries, adding to popular discontent with rising prices and risking unrest as the government tries to avoid a public finance crisis.

There is widespread shortage of sugar, cooking oil, milk, butter, coffee, tobacco and bottled water, and the situation is worse in poorer areas far from the capital.

Street tea seller Mustafa Dahesh, 82, said he relies on sugar to make the sweet drink, which he sells in paper cups from a metal teapot as he wanders the narrow alleys of a poor neighborhood in Tunis.

“There is no sugar. I swear there is no sugar,” he said, making it difficult for him to increase his income beyond his pension of $55 a month.

Small protests have already occurred and the head of the main powerful trade union, the UGTT, has repeatedly warned in recent months of a “revolution of the hungry”.

This shortage is partly due to global commodity pressures and higher prices due to the turmoil associated with the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Expensive financing

However, Tunisia may face increasing turmoil as its weak financial position makes it difficult to buy basic commodities at high international prices and sell them internally at the same subsidized price it was already using.

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The government is seeking a rescue plan from the International Monetary Fund to help it finance its budget and pay off its debts, but the support is likely to stop on subsidies, reduce the public sector wage bill, and restructure state-owned enterprises.

Talks between the government and the UGTT to agree on those reforms – a possible condition for IMF support – are still pending.

Without an IMF bailout, Tunisia will likely have to borrow internally, restricting credit to local businesses in ways diplomats say could hurt the economy or use its foreign currency reserves, hurting the dinar and raising inflation.

The government blamed the shortage on global commodity pressures and on local hoarders and speculators, and denied that it had problems paying for imports.

The Tunisian General Labor Union said earlier this year that the government was struggling to pay for wheat imports. The World Bank, the European Union, Japan and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provided loans for food assistance to Tunisia this year.

Dairy producers have demanded state help in tackling animal feed inflation and other operating costs, which they blame for shortages of milk and butter.

An official from the Tunisian General Labor Union said that the sugar shortage has caused the disruption of many food factories. Workers at a soft drink factory protested last week against the threat to their jobs.

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The shortage of coffee, which is rationed to one pack per customer in some stores, has also led to some cafes being temporarily closed.

“We are a café. We only have coffee to offer our customers,” said Noureddine Ben Hassan, owner of the Istiqlal Café in Tunis, adding that a shortage of coffee, milk and sugar forced it to close.

(This story has not been edited by the NDTV crew and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)