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The shortages hitting countries around the world

Around the the world, people and businesses are facing shortages of everything from coffee to coal.

Disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is mostly to blame - but there are many factors, and effects are being felt in different ways.

China: Coal and paper
A "perfect storm" in China is hitting shoppers and businesses at home and overseas.

It is affecting everything from paper, food, textiles and toys to iPhone chips, says Dr Michal Meidan from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

She says these items "may end up being in short supply this Christmas".

The problem stems mainly from an electricity crisis, during which more than 20 provinces have experienced power cuts.

More than half of the country's electricity comes from coal, which has risen in price worldwide. These costs can't be passed on to Chinese consumers because of a strict price cap, so energy companies are reducing output.

Coal production has also been hit by new safety checks at mines, stricter environmental rules and recent flooding, says Dr Meidan.

It means that even as demand for Chinese goods surges, factories have been asked to reduce energy use or close on some days.

US: Toys and toilet paper
At Christmas, "there will be things that people can't get", a White House official has warned.

Stocks of toys will be affected, as could staples such as toilet paper and bottled water, new clothes and pet food.

Part of the problem is a bottleneck at US ports. Four out of 10 shipping containers entering the US come through just two ports - in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.

On one day in September, a record 73 ships were forced to queue outside Los Angeles port. Before Covid, it was unusual for more than one to be waiting.

Both ports have now moved to a 24/7 operation to help ease the pressures.

Why are so many ships queuing to get to the US?

In some cases, shortages have also been caused by ongoing Covid-related problems in other countries.

American sportswear giant Nike, for example, makes many of its products in southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, where factories have been closed.

Even when goods are produced, delivering them to retailers has become more difficult, says Prof Willy Shih of Harvard Business School.

There has been a surge in spending by US consumers, but disruption at factories, ports and "overloaded" road and rail networks have created a bottleneck, he says.

India: Cars and computer chips
India's biggest car manufacturer, Maruti Suzuki, has seen production plummet, partly because of a global shortage of computer chips.

These chips manage features such as engine supply and emergency braking.

The shortage has been driven by pandemic-related disruption in countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Global demand for the chips - which are also used in phones and computers - was already rising before the pandemic, because of the adoption of 5G technology. The shift to home-working led to another rise in demand, as people needed work laptops or webcams.

The shortage of components coming into India has been made worse by the country's own energy disruption.

Coal stocks are running dangerously low. The economy picked up after India's deadly second wave of Covid-19, leading to an increase in demand for energy. But global coal prices increased and India's imports fell.

The impact has been widespread, said Zohra Chatterji, the former Chief of Coal India Limited.

"The entire manufacturing sector - cement, steel, construction - everything gets impacted once there is a coal shortage."

Families in India will be hit too, say experts, as electricity prices increase. High inflation means the price of essentials such as food and oil are already up.

Why India is on the brink of a power crisis?
Why is there a chip shortage?
Brazil: Coffee and water
Brazil's most severe drought in almost a century is partly to blame for a disappointing coffee harvest this year.

Combined with frosts and the natural cycle of harvests, it has contributed to a significant fall in coffee production.

The challenges for coffee producers have been made worse by high shipping costs and a shortage of containers.

Their rising costs will be passed onto cafes across the world, as Brazil is the largest producer and exporter of coffee.

With most of the country's electricity coming from hydroelectric power using reservoirs, the lack of water is having a direct impact on the country's energy supply.

As energy prices go up, the authorities are asking people to limit their electricity use to avoid rationing. The energy minister said that government agencies had been asked to reduce their electricity use by 20%, according to the Washington Post.

Nigeria: Cooking gas
Nigeria is experiencing shortages of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), which is mainly used for cooking.

This is despite the country having the largest natural gas reserves in Africa

The price of LPG rose by almost 60% between April and July, pushing it beyond the reach of many Nigerians.

As a result, households and businesses turned to much dirtier charcoal, or firewood, for cooking.

One of the reasons for the price hike is a global shortage in supply - the country still depends on imported LNG.

The situation is likely have been made worse by the depreciation of the currency and re-introduction of taxes on LNG.

Experts warn that the shortage could have alarming health and environmental implications, as people turn to cheaper but more dangerous fuel alternatives.

Lebanon: Water and medicines
There are concerns about shortages of water, medicines and fuel in Lebanon.

For the past 18 months the country has endured an economic crisis, which has pushed three-quarters of its population into poverty, crippled its currency and sparked major demonstrations against the government and Lebanon's political system.

The country's economy already had problems before Covid hit. But the pandemic has made things worse.

Fuel shortages have led to frequent electricity outages, leaving businesses and families reliant on expensive private electricity diesel generators if they can afford it.

In August, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon Najat Rochdi said she was "deeply concerned about the impact of the fuel crisis on access to health care and water supply for millions of people in Lebanon".

Read more at BBC, <click here>
   
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