Analysis by Jaya Ramachandran
BERLIN | ROME (IDN) - The UN Security Council is faced with a critical if not an unprecedented situation: it has been warned that "protracted conflicts affecting 17 countries" have now driven more than 56 million people into either "crisis" or "emergency" levels of food insecurity and are hindering global efforts to eradicate malnutrition.
At the same time, according to a recent report by UNEP and the World Resources Institute (WRI), about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems.
56 million people trapped in a vicious cycle of violence and hunger amount to about five million more than the population of South Africa and some five million less than that of Italy. Leading the list in terms of the sheer numbers of people whose food security is being negatively impacted by ongoing conflict are Yemen and Syria.
In Yemen,14 million people – more than half the population – find themselves in a state of hunger crisis or emergency. In Syria, where 8.7 million people – 37 percent of the population before conflict erupted five years ago – need urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance.
A staggering 89 percent of all Syrian refugees currently in Lebanon require urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance, says a new series of 17 country briefs prepared by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).
17 countries where conflict has significantly affected food security are: Haiti and Colombia in Latin America and the Caribbean; Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo (D R Congo), Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan in Africa; Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen in the Middle East; and Afghanistan in Asia.
In addition, violence associated with the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, is adversely affecting Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The number of displaced people in that region has tripled over the past two years accompanied by rising levels of hunger and malnutrition.
In South Sudan where the situation is rapidly deteriorating 4.8 million people – some 40 percent of the population – are in need of urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance, the two UN food agencies find.
In countries coming out of extended periods of civil strife such as the Central African Republic and Colombia millions of people are still wrestling with high levels of food insecurity.
While the overall absolute numbers of people facing food insecurity in other countries are lower, adds the joint report, the share of people experiencing severe levels of food insecurity accounts for over half of the total population.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin underline in their introduction to the briefs to the Security Council how hunger feeds violence and drives further instability. "Conflict is a leading cause of hunger – each famine in the modern era has been characterized by conflict," they warn.
And add: "Conflict undermines food security in multiple ways: destroying crops, livestock and agricultural infrastructure, disrupting markets, causing displacement, creating fear and uncertainty over fulfilling future needs, damaging human capital and contributing to the spread of disease among others. Conflict also creates access problems for governments and humanitarian organizations, which often struggle to reach those in need."
The importance of the briefs on the food security situation in conflict-affected states which the Security Council will receive regularly from FAO and WFP is highlighted by the fact that the Council "takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression".
The two UN agencies also pointed out that according to recent estimates, approximately half of the global poor live in states characterized by conflict and violence. In such places, the people can be up to three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in more stable areas.
“Addressing hunger can be a meaningful contribution to peacebuilding,” emphasized the FAO and WFP heads, adding, “The 2030 Agenda [2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development] recognizes peace as a vital threshold condition for development, as well as a development outcome in its own right.”
The Security Council can indeed handle "crisis" or "emergency" levels of food insecurity by involving the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), "an intergovernmental advisory body that supports peace efforts in countries emerging from conflict, and is a key addition to the capacity of the international Community in the broad peace agenda".
The Peacebuilding Commission plays a unique role in (1) bringing together all of the relevant actors, including international donors, the international financial institutions, national governments, troop contributing countries; (2) marshalling resources and (3) advising on and proposing integrated strategies for peacebuilding and recovery and where appropriate, highlighting any gaps that threaten to undermine peace.
The United Nations has also been spending billions on assisting in navigating the difficult path from conflict to peace in different parts of the world. The UN General Assembly on June 17, 2016 approved USD 7.86 billion for 15 peacekeeping missions in the coming twelve months.
The approved budget for the fiscal year July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016 amounts to about USD 8.27 billion – less than half of one per cent of world military expenditures (estimated at $1,747 billion in 2013).
The top 10 providers of assessed contributions to UN Peacekeeping operations in 2013-2015 are; United States (28.38%); Japan (10.83%); France (7.22%); Germany (7.14%); United Kingdom (6.68%); China (6.64%); Italy (4.45%); Russian Federation (3.15%); Canada (2.98%); and Spain (2.97%).
UN peacekeeping operations in the fiscal year July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017 will target Sudan’s Abyei region, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Darfur, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Golan, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Western Sahara and Somalia. A number of these countries are threatened by acute food insecurity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 July 2016]
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
Photo: At least 7 million people across Yemen are living under emergency levels of food insecurity. A further 7.1 million people are in a state of crisis, according to the latest assessment. Credit: WFP/Asmaa Waguih