Conflicts around the world are becoming both more numerous and longer-lasting, two trends that are pushing tens of millions of people to the brink of starvation, according to a new report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The FAO looked at eight countries and regions facing extreme rates of conflict-induced hunger for its annual report assessing the link between food security and conflict. Throughout these countries, more than 56 million people are in urgent need of food assistance.
"This report shows again the tragic link between conflict and hunger and how it still pervades far too much of the world,” wrote David Beasley, the chief of the World Food Programme, in the foreword. “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."
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Of the eight regions examined, three experienced improvements in food security compared with the last year: Syria, Somalia, and the Lake Chad Basin, an area that crosses seven countries in central Africa.
For example, the brutal civil war in Syria has waned over the past year, allowing humanitarian groups to more readily access people in need of food. In Somalia, the number of people in urgent need of food nearly fell in half, but the country’s progress was impeded by droughts, floods, and ongoing conflicts.
The other five countries studied — Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — all became more food insecure over the past year.
Yemen in particular reached a “critical point” in late 2018, when 15.9 million people became urgent need of food aid. The FAO believes that progress could be made in the months ahead if a tentative peace agreement holds and humanitarian groups are able to reach people suffering.
In December, the UN reached 9.5 million people in Yemen with food aid, and aims to reach 12 million in the months ahead. One of the biggest obstacles to providing more aid in Yemen, and elsewhere, is the risk faced by humanitarian workers, who are regularly attacked, according to the report.
Afghanistan saw an especially sharp decline in food security, as the Taliban insurgency escalated, displaced more than half a million people in 2018. Warring parties in the country recently came to a tentative peace agreement that could put an end to a nearly two decade-long war, although dashed peace deals in the past cast this latest development in uncertainty.
The largest rise in conflict-related hunger occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where ongoing conflicts disrupted agricultural output in parts of the country.
As so often happens in comprehensive reports on global problems, large numbers can obscure the day-to-day traumas of the people represented, and the FAO urges world leaders to remember that actual people are suffering.
"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," wrote FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in the report’s 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," he continued.