Conflict-driven hunger worsens; Middle East hit hard

yemenit child

A child in Yemen.

A new report to the UN Security Council shines a spotlight on hunger in conflict zones: The situation in the eight places in the world with the highest number of people in need of emergency food support shows that the link between conflict and hunger remains all too persistent and deadly, according to a new report released today by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The report was prepared for the UN Security Council which in May adopted a landmark resolution on preventing hunger in conflict zones.

We talked about the dire situation in Yemen back in 2011. Was anyone listening?

The situation in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Yemen worsened in the latter part of 2018 largely because of conflict, while Somalia, Syria and the Lake Chad Basin have seen some improvements in line with improved security. In total, around 56 million people are in need of urgent food and livelihood assistance across the eight conflict zones.

“This report clearly demonstrates the impact of armed violence on the lives and livelihoods of millions of men, women, boys and girls caught up in conflict,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva states in the report foreword. “I would strongly encourage you to keep in mind that behind these seemingly dry statistics are real people experiencing rates of hunger that are simply unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Violence against humanitarian workers is growing, the report states, sometimes forcing organizations to suspend operations and deprive vulnerable populations of humanitarian assistance. In 2018, aid workers and facilities were attacked in all the countries covered in the report.

“This report shows again the tragic link between conflict and hunger and how it still pervades far too much of the world. We need better and quicker access in all conflict zones, so we can get to more of the civilians who need our help. But what the world needs most of all is an end to the wars,” the World Food Programme Executive DirectorDavid Beasley states in the foreword.

Condemnation of starvation as a tool of war

The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2417 is an unambiguous condemnation of starvation as a tool of war. It calls on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to minimize the impact of military actions on civilians, including on food production and distribution, and to allow humanitarian access in a safe and timely manner to civilians needing lifesaving food, nutritional and medical assistance.

“The millions of men, women and children going hungry as a result of armed conflict will not be reduced unless and until these fundamental principles are followed”, the report states.

Unprecedented and unacceptable hunger

The growing number of protracted conflicts in the world is creating unprecedented and unacceptable levels of hunger.

Yemen’s three-year war is a stark demonstration of the urgent need for a cessation of hostilities to address the world’s largest food security emergency. In its country analysis, the report states that conflicting parties disregarded the protected status of humanitarian facilities and personnel which made scaling-up operations to prevent famine a difficult and dangerous endeavour.

In the second half of 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the second highest number (13 million) of acutely food insecure people, driven by a rise in armed conflict.

In South Sudan, where civil strife has persisted for more than five years, the lean season is expected to start earlier than normal, according to the report, pushing those in need of urgent support up to more than 5 million between January and March 2019.

Across the Lake Chad basin including north-eastern Nigeria, Chad’s Lac region and Niger’s Diffa, where Boko Haram militants are active, a major deterioration in food security is projected during this year’s lean season (June-August 2019), and 3 million people are expected to face acute food insecurity.

In Afghanistan, the percentage of rural Afghans facing acute food deficits is projected to reach 47 percent (or 10.6 million people) by March if urgent life-saving assistance is not provided. In the Central African Republic, armed conflict remained the main driver of hunger in 2018, with 1.9 million people experiencing severe food deficits.

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