Wednesday 13 November 2019

When there's a will, there's a way to end world hunger

Children bathing at a contaminated borehole at Rier village, in south Sudan’s Unity state, near an abandoned oil treatment facility which was once a crucial part of South Sudan’s mainstay industry
Children bathing at a contaminated borehole at Rier village, in south Sudan’s Unity state, near an abandoned oil treatment facility which was once a crucial part of South Sudan’s mainstay industry

Dominic MacSorley

Conflict leaves utter devastation in its wake, destroying families' food supplies, decimating local markets and impeding aid workers' access to conflict-torn regions, with the result that millions of people are going hungry, suffering from acute and deadly food shortages each day, worldwide.

The clear link between conflict and hunger is one of the key highlights of the tenth issue of the Global Hunger Index (GHI), just launched to tie in with World Food Day by Concern Worldwide, the International Food Policy Research Institute and German NGO, Welthungerhilfe.

The truth in this is evident in modern-day Syria. Previously a middle-income country, Syria has changed dramatically after enduring more than four years of bloody war. The UN estimates that almost 10 million Syrians in the region do not have enough food to eat. More than six million of them are classified as 'severely food insecure'.

The path to hunger in the midst of war is complex and multifaceted. Infrastructure systems across Syria have been bombed and shelled; many roads are now impassable. This has disrupted local markets, regional trade and cross-border economic activities. Agriculture essentials such as irrigation systems, tractors, livestock fodder and crops have been damaged and destroyed. Some agricultural lands are contaminated with unexploded mines and booby traps, and thus rendered inoperable.

Wheat production is down 40pc on pre-conflict levels. Unemployment rates have risen at the same time food prices increased sharply due to a curtailment of subsidies and the depreciation of the Syrian currency. In some districts, monthly household income has fallen by almost 83pc, making it increasingly difficult for families to buy enough food to eat.

This leaves the hungry victims of war reliant on humanitarian assistance for survival. However, as the war rages on, funding for the basics - food, shelter and water - is grossly insufficient.

The UN World Food Programme has been forced to halve its level of assistance to almost 1.3 million vulnerable Syrian refugees in the region, leaving most refugees to live on around 50 cents per day. This is morally unacceptable. Countries with the worst GHI rankings tend to be those in the midst of conflict or recently emerged from war, such as Central African Republic and Chad. In the case of South Sudan, a country plunged back into war in the past few years, hunger is a recurring reality.

With a sickening predictability, one can chart the spiral into hunger and destitution. People have had their cattle looted, their crops and granaries burnt to the ground.

To cope, they reduce the number of meals they eat, beg or borrow from neighbours and finally sell their last cow. Then, when they are left with nothing, they are forced to flee their homes. I have met families who have told me how, when food becomes so scarce, they prioritise who gets fed. Children between two and five are fed first, then grandparents, followed by the men and finally the women.

Last month's Food Security Analysis Report shows that 3.9 million people, or 34pc of the population, are classified as severely food and nutrition insecure and are unable to meet their food needs.

This is an 80pc increase compared with the same period last year. Of extreme concern is an estimated 30,000 people in Unity State who are likely to deteriorate into famine in the absence of urgent and immediate humanitarian access. War has a brutal and devastating impact on people, not least of all on their levels of hunger.

This week's Global Hunger Index report is a wake-up call for the international community. It signals that the time has come to make conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution a much higher political priority. Diplomatic muscle and political will is urgently needed to prevent appalling levels of poverty, suffering and horrific brutality that seem commonplace in too many of today's conflicts.

With enough political will and commitment, we could see an end to conflict-induced starvation in our lifetime. The United Nations and powerful national governments can predict and stop major food crises, but the decision is always political.

Regardless of political context, political commitment at the highest levels is needed to prevent starvation and hunger.

The theme and timing of this year's GHI is auspicious. It was only last month when the world's leaders came together in New York to welcome the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This signalled a renewed commitment to ending hunger and global poverty by 2030. However, without peace, ending poverty and hunger by 2030 will never be achieved.

Dominic MacSorley is CEO of Concern Worldwide.

Irish Independent

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