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FAO: Conflicts in Middle East Hamstring Efforts to Eradicate Hunger

FAO: Conflicts in Middle East Hamstring Efforts to Eradicate Hunger

Friday, 22 December, 2017 - 13:45
FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed during the report's launch in Cairo, Egypt (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for increasing the cooperation and solidarity among the countries of the Near East and North Africa region to eradicate hunger, which affects about 40 million people in the region, according to official figures.

The organization also requested intensifying the efforts to end conflicts and achieve development after food insecurity levels in conflict countries were six times higher than that of more stable countries of the region.

FAO estimates that about 55.2 million people suffer from acute food insecurity in the region, confirming that 10.2 percent of the region's population suffer from malnutrition, while 12 percent suffer from food insecurity.

FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed reiterated importance of establishing resilient and sustainable peace in the region is important for improving the well-being of the population.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ould Ahmed stressed that no country in the region can succeed on its own because the countries are linked, adding that it is necessary to work together to compensate "lost opportunities" in comprehensive development, including food security.

In Cairo, FAO launched its 2017 report "Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa (NENA)" which highlights in particular how an ongoing intensification of violence is opening a wide "hunger gap" between countries being affected by conflicts and those that are not.

The report indicated that in countries directly impacted by conflict, 27.2 percent of all people were chronically hungry, or undernourished, during the 2014-2016 period, which is six times higher than the share of the population that was undernourished in countries not affected by strife.

Meanwhile, "severe food insecurity", one of FAO's metrics to measure hunger, in conflict-affected countries now is double that in non-conflict countries.

In a region largely made up of developing, middle-income countries, chronic hunger typically affects less than 5 percent of their populations. Violence in some of these countries has seen the proportion of chronically hungry people in conflict zones increase to levels comparable with the world's poorest countries.

This will make realistic progress towards eradicating hunger in the region using traditional tools of policy-making difficult, unless decisive steps towards peace and stability are taken, the report cautions.

The report highlights several regional countries being particularly affected by conflict, with profound consequences for people's incomes and food security.

In Syria, violence has provoked a 67 percent reduction in the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and severely undermined food security, as between 70 and 80 percent of Syrians now need humanitarian assistance, while 50 percent require food assistance.

In Iraq, the report stated that violence led to a 58 percent decline in GDP, with 30 percent of the population needing humanitarian assistance while 9 percent requires food assistance.

As for Yemen, the conflict led to a situation where 70 to 80 of the population in need of humanitarian assistance and 50 percent require food assistance.

Whereas in Libya, conflict is undermining food security with 6 percent of the population in need of food assistance, according to the report.

During the launch ceremony, FAO Assistant Director-General Ould Ahmed highlighted the pivotal importance of building resilience and sustaining peace in the Near East and North Africa region to improving peoples' well-being.

He pointed to "the growing need to implement long-term and comprehensive policies and practices to achieve Zero hunger by 2030," adding that "when countries in the region are suffering from an escalation of conflicts, the aim to tackle the region's deepest concerns of malnutrition, water scarcity and climate change becomes more challenging but at the same time more urgent".

Ould Ahmed concluded that only through improved cooperation and solidarity will the region be able to end conflicts and violence and get back to development.

FAO's report establishes a baseline for measuring future progress towards achieving the second goal of the SDG in the MENA region using the latest indicators for the SDG targets on hunger and food insecurity and malnutrition.

The report also identifies how conflict itself encumbers SDG monitoring with UN agencies gathering and assessing information on food security and nutrition status during conflict, but the data are not always complete and can be difficult to compare with peacetime data.

Other than statistics, the report focuses on the fundamental factors that improves food security and malnutrition: poverty reduction, economic growth, improvements in maternal and childhood nutrition and public health, increases in the quantity and quality of food and the cessation of violence.

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