Tunisia Faces Rice Shortage, Putting Coeliac Disease Sufferers at Risk
Tunisia is currently facing a national rice shortage, causing significant challenges for individuals with coeliac disease. Siwar Derbeli, a young woman suffering from coeliac disease, relies on rice as one of the few staples she can comfortably eat due to its lack of gluten. However, shortages of imported goods sold at subsidized rates have been increasing in Tunisia since last year, with wheat, sugar, cooking oil, dairy products, and even some medicines periodically disappearing from supermarket shelves.
While rice is not the most commonly consumed staple in Tunisia, where bread, pasta, and couscous are more frequently eaten, it is indispensable for the country’s estimated 100,000 people with coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition that triggers a dangerous response to gluten. As a result, the lack of gluten in rice makes it a crucial dietary option for those with this condition.
Siwar Derbeli, an 18-year-old suffering from coeliac disease, expressed her frustration with the current situation. “You come home and can’t find the basic food you need to eat. It’s a very unfortunate situation,” she said. For her mother, Hasna Arfaoui, cooking Derbeli’s evening meal has become a challenge due to the expensive gluten-free pasta they can barely afford. Arfaoui, an unemployed widow with three children who used to work as a cleaner, explained, “We have been facing difficulties with her diet, and it has been very tiring for us. The specialized food she needs is expensive, and we often struggle to afford it. Basic ingredients like rice are missing.”
The Tunisian government has denied that the shortages are a result of the crisis in public finances. Talks for a foreign bailout have stalled, and credit ratings agencies have warned that Tunisia may default on sovereign debt. However, economists, political analysts, and Tunisia’s influential labor union have all suggested that the government is delaying or stopping imports of subsidized goods to cope with a $5 billion budget deficit, despite the public hardship it causes.
Monji ben Hriz, president of the Tunisian Association for Coeliac Disease, revealed that no shipments of rice are expected until December, and state-held stocks have already run out. While some privately imported rice is available, the significantly higher cost makes it prohibitive for many Tunisians. “People are now enduring real difficulties sourcing rice, and there are those who have changed their diet for this reason, jeopardizing their health,” said ben Hriz.
The shortage of rice in Tunisia highlights the challenges faced by individuals with coeliac disease and their families. The specialized dietary needs of those with coeliac disease require access to gluten-free alternatives, which are often more expensive and harder to find. The current situation exacerbates the financial burden on families already struggling to make ends meet.
Efforts must be made to address the root causes of the shortage and ensure that essential food items like rice are readily available to all Tunisians, including those with coeliac disease. The government should prioritize the importation and distribution of subsidized goods to alleviate the burden on vulnerable populations. Additionally, support and assistance programs should be implemented to help families afford the specialized food required for individuals with coeliac disease.
In conclusion, the national rice shortage in Tunisia is not only an inconvenience but a source of hunger for individuals with coeliac disease. The lack of access to gluten-free staples like rice puts their health at risk and adds financial strain to their families. Urgent action is needed to address the shortage and ensure that essential food items are accessible to all Tunisians, regardless of their dietary needs.