Fasting, feasting and food waste in West Asia – UNEP ROWA

The UNEP Regional Office for West Asia launches a campaign to raise awareness to reduce food waste during Ramadan, foster behaviour change, and boost sustainable action.

  • Research shows that significant food waste is generated during social and religious occasions globally, and West Asia is no exception. 
  • Ramadan began at sunset on 12th April – a time of reflection, this period shines an additional light on food waste and consumption patterns in the region.

Over 10 per cent of people worldwide are hungry – a number that is expected to rise sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, roughly 25 per cent are overweight or obese and 17 per cent of food is wasted at consumer level.

Harmful to people and planet, UNEP records that food loss and waste uses labour, capital, fertilizers, pesticides, water, land and energy resources in vain, generating 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, impacting biodiversity, costing governments, businesses and households nearly a trillion US dollars (UNEP).

Economic crises has gripped several countries in the region, and food insecurity (and crises) is  a real or imminent threat for many. Conversely, West Asia includes some of richest countries in the world. Comprised of 12 countries with remarkable income disparities, West Asia experiences different priorities across the food value chain, yet food waste prevention remains a common dominator in addressing several Sustainable Development Goals in the region.

With unique features related to its diverse culture, religion, history, and climate, food waste is generated over short periods of time. During Ramadan, research shows that from 25-50 per cent of food prepared is wasted.

The holy month has limits this year – with restrictions on communal prayers – families stay home against a backdrop of a global pandemic and a warming planet.

The “Iftar”, traditionally a time when families and communities gather to feast together now warrants a climate lens – as people everywhere re-examine how they live and consumption patterns begin to shift.

To date, household consumption has been responsible for 72 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Coupled with the fact that food loss and waste generates 8-10 per cent of those, reducing food waste at home is one of the best ways to have a positive climate impact –  to foster a thoughtful transition toward sustainable consumption (and celebration), reach the 1.5 °C goal under the Paris Agreement, and pave the way for a green recovery.

The upcoming UNEP report on the State of Food Waste in West Asia aims to assess the attitudes and behaviours that determine food waste in the region, to better understand and tailor community-based interventions.

A sample of 200 participants from 10 countries in West Asia were requested to complete an online survey between July and November 2020. One-third of the survey respondents reported an increase in their food waste generation following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic (new consumption habits due to national lockdowns led to over shopping as a result of food shortage worries). However, respondents simultaneously increased their use of leftovers, which shows the willingness of people to implement sustainable practices.

In addition, The UNEP Regional Office for West Asia launched a campaign to raise awareness about reducing food waste during Ramadan, foster behaviour change, and boost action.

A Sustainable Lifestyle is considered a way of living, social behaviours and choices, that minimize environmental degradation (use of natural resources, CO2 emissions, waste and pollution) while supporting equitable socio-economic development and better quality of life for all. (UNEP)

The Sustainable Ramadan campaign calls on those marking this holy month to adopt these sustainable living tips:

  • Shop carefully and sustainably
  • Swap animal protein for plant-based options when possible
  • Cook creatively and discover leftover recipes
  • Plan meals ahead of time and control portions
  • Reduce single-use packaging (order takeaways without cutlery) and use reusable shopping bags. 

For more information, check out all campaign materials and follow UNEP West Asia on Instagram and Twitter.

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