UN: Conflict key cause of 124 million hungry who could die

March 23, 2018 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The number of people around the world in danger of dying unless they get food urgently surged to 124 million last year — mainly because “people won’t stop shooting at each other,” the head of the U.N. food agency said Friday.

David Beasley told the Security Council by video link that almost 32 million of those acutely hungry people live in four conflict-wracked countries: Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northeastern Nigeria, where famine was averted last year.


“The link between hunger and conflict is as strong as it is destructive,” the executive director of the World Food Program said. “Conflict leads to food insecurity. And food insecurity can also stoke instability and tension which trigger violence.”

Globally, Beasley said, 60 percent of the 815 million chronically hungry people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from live in conflict areas.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said “despite the wildest predictions, famines have become less frequent and less lethal over the past few decades.”

He called this “an amazing achievement,” citing the dramatic expansion in agricultural output and productivity and the global reduction in poverty which has seen people gain purchasing power.

“The remaining risk of famine and hunger is now concentrated in a relatively small number of countries affected by large-scale, severe and protracted conflict,” Lowcock said.

“Almost 490 million undernourished people — and almost 80 percent of the world’s 155 million stunted children — live in countries affected by conflict,” he said by video link.

Lowcock said a study released Thursday by the World Food Program, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Union confirmed that conflict, often combined with “extreme climate shock and high prices of staple food is the main driver of global food insecurity.”

While famine was averted last year, Lowcock said that according to the latest data, northeastern Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan still face the risk of famine over the next six months. And there are also “extremely worrying” food security issues in Ethiopia, Somalia and Congo, he said.

Beasley, the WFP chief, also warned of pressures building now in Africa’s greater Sahel region, which is home to over 500 million people.

While the region is blessed with natural resources, arable land and young people needing jobs, he said it also faces constant food insecurity, is vulnerable to droughts and floods and has seen armed groups take advantage of the situation.


“In the five core countries of the Sahel — Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania — acute malnutrition has risen 30 percent in the past five years,” Beasley said.

Around the globe, he said, there were 80 million acutely hungry people in 2015, 108 million in 2016 and 124 million in 2017 — “a staggering and stomach-churning 55 percent increase” in just two years.

Lowcock, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, stressed that political solutions to conflicts and peace are the only way to “disrupt the vicious cycle of conflict and hunger.”

He urged Security Council members to use their influence over parties to conflicts and to investigate violations of international humanitarian law, which prohibits using starvation as a weapon of war, prohibits attacking hospitals and schools and requires all combatants to allow the delivery of aid.

Beasley said that in 2016, nearly half the entire global humanitarian budget — $27 billion — was spent in four conflict-wracked countries, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and South Sudan.

He also cited WFP research showing that every 1 percent rise in the rate of hunger “is matched by a 2 percent increase in migration.”

Beasley said the price tag to address the root causes of hunger “is far cheaper” and he urged U.N. agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations to join forces “to build long-lasting economies in places where war and hunger have taken their toll.”

This should range from helping small farmers make a living to building roads, schools and irrigation wells and helping communities sell surplus crops, he said.

Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands minister for foreign trade and development cooperation who chaired the meeting, said: “Hunger caused by conflict as well as starvation reflect our collective failure, and this council has a collective responsibility to address it, and prevent it in the future.”

“It is upon us,” she told council members, “to ensure that starving civilians will become a crime of the past — a practice both forbidden and punishable.”