The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations warned that the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East will exacerbate rates of hunger in the region, saying that more than 40 million people are suffering.
It therefore called for more efforts to eliminate hunger and end conflicts in order to achieve development.
On the margins of the FAO’s release of a report on the “regional general view of food safety and nutrition in the Near East and North Africa for 2017”, Asharq Al-Awsat sat with Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Near East and North Africa, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed to discuss the current situation in the region and its prospects for the future.
He stressed that conflicts in the region are the primary reason for the deterioration of food safety standards, noting that hunger rates in war-torn countries have reached 27.2 percent.
There is a pressing need to provide humanitarian aid to people in areas of conflict, he stressed. For the FAO, this means supporting farmers to withstand the negative repercussions of crises, wars and violence. This also demands that countries be assisted in preparing for the post-war period, including reconstruction.
In addressing countries facing crises, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, even Palestine, the FAO first seeks to provide support to small farmers by supplying them with seeds and fertilizers, Ould Ahmed said.
It also focuses on backing them through projects, such as providing financial aid in exchange for work or providing financial assistance to maintain their equipment. The organization also helps farmers with infrastructure needs, such as irrigation networks and protecting cattle.
FAO also plays a role in tackling reconstruction efforts in collaboration and setting the bases for sustainable development through policies and plans that are discussed with various countries, he explained.
Moreover, he highlighted the need to restrict wasted food, which is very high in Arab countries.
“This is unacceptable,” he declared, stressing the need for governments and societies to exert efforts to improve this situation.
“My main message is that conflicts are the main reason behind the deterioration of food security. Three-fourths of people suffering from hunger live in conflict zones,” Ould Ahmed stated.
The repercussions of the conflicts are not limited to food security, but they have led to migration and displacement problems, which are issues that need a long time to be resolved, he warned.
The crises have also forced regional countries to spend huge amounts of money on countering terrorism and waging battles. These funds should be dedicated to development and preparing for the future, he stressed.
All attention is now focused on war, violence and conflicts, while vital issues, such as water security, climate change, youth unemployment and levels of health and education, are being neglected, he lamented.
“The truth is, this is a major wasted opportunity,” he said.
“Collective efforts are a necessity because no country in the region can single-handedly end its own crisis,” Ould Ahmed added.