April 2017: The 165th session of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Council opened with FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warning that, without urgent intervention, 20 million people will starve to death over the next six months in South Sudan, Somalia, north-eastern Nigeria and Yemen.
The warning comes about a month after FAO released the ‘Global Report on Food Crises 2017,’ which established that in 2016, 108 million people around the world faced crisis level food insecurity, a 35% increase over 2015. The report attributes the rising number of people who need urgent assistance in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria, Burundi and the Central African Republic (CAR) to conflict, drought and high food prices. The report notes worsening conditions for each of Northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. The FAO also released a report, titled ‘2016 Regional Overview of Food Insecurity in the Near East and North Africa,’ which also discusses the impacts of conflict on regional nutrition and food security. The report argues that climate change and water insecurity are the largest challenges to ending hunger and achieving sustainable agriculture, outside of conflict, a primary driver.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reiterated the impacts of both conflict and unsafe water on the hunger crises, reporting that those 22 million children across Northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen “are hungry, sick, displaced and out of school,” mainly because of conflict. It cautioned that “nearly 1.4 million are at imminent risk of death this year from severe malnutrition.” According to the agency: in northeast Nigeria, fighting Boko Haram has damaged or destroyed 75% of water and sanitation infrastructure: in Somalia, about one-third of the population needs access to water and sanitation; approximately 5.1 million people lack safe water, sanitation and hygiene in South Sudan; and in Yemen, fighting displaced at least 14.5 million people, leaving them without basic sanitation and adequate drinking water.
In a press release, Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes, said that “unsafe water can cause malnutrition or make it worse, no matter how much food a malnourished child eats, he or she will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe.
At a media briefing on 11 April, Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that “an avoidable humanitarian crisis in Africa and Yemen, possibly worse than that of 2011, is fast becoming an inevitability.” The briefing highlighted food insecurity and malnutrition among refugee populations, highlighting, inter alia, inadequate funds to purchase rations. According to a UN press release on the briefing, rations were cut by up to 75% in Uganda, by 12% in Djibouti, and between 20-50% in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. In south-east Ethiopia, acute malnutrition rates among newly arriving Somali refugee children between 6 months and five years old were between 50-79%. On 7 April, the World Food Programme (WFP) was able to resume full rations for refugees in Kenya’s Dadaab (the world’s largest) and Kakuma refugee camps, but said that the funding currently available for cash transfers (which account for 30% of the refugees’ food assistance) would only last through May. Dadaab borders Somalia, while Kakuma borders South Sudan and Uganda. Last year, the WFP had to cut rations 50% due to a lack of funds.
In Somalia, UNICEF has noted a 58% increase in the number of children (35,400) treated for severe acute malnutrition over the same January- February timeframe in 2016. According to the agency, as of 28 March, more than 18,400 cases of cholera/acute watery diarrhoea were reported since the beginning of the year, far surpassing the 15,600 cases reported in all of 2016. The majority of the cases are among young children. The agency says there are no exact figures available for the number of children who have died from hunger or malnutrition because these children are also more vulnerable to disease.
In February, UNICEF projected that 944,000 children would be acutely malnourished in 2017, a figure, it notes, that could sharply rise if April rains are inadequate. UNICEF Somalia raised its 2017 funding requirement from $66 million to $147 million, with a funding gap of 54% as of mid-March. On the 21 March, FAO announced that the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) approved a $22 million loan that will support its activities in drought-affected areas of Somalia. Measures implemented under FAO’s Famine Prevention and Drought Response Plan will include: providing cash; meeting immediate food and water needs; providing agriculture- and fisheries-based livelihood support, and saving livestock assets and related food and income. The CERF funds will complement loans already provided by FAO’s Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities.On the 21 April, WFP announced an air drop in Mogadishu of enough high-energy biscuits to assist 31,000 people for three days, noting that other life-saving food assistance would follow.
On 20 February, FAO, UNICEF and the WFP formally declared famine in parts of South Sudan. By the end of March, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said that fighting in the country had caused food production to fall and food prices to rise in peaceful areas of the country, resulting in migration north. On 30 March, the WFP began to move food assistance to famine-hit and food-insecure people in the country via a “humanitarian corridor” provided by the government. The agency planned to deliver 11,000 metric tons of sorghum to feed 300,000 people for three months. David Beasley of the US was appointed as the Executive Director of the WFP on 29 March.
The Lake Chad Basin
In the first week of April, FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva visited Chad and met with Chad’s Prime Minister, Albert Pahimi Padacke to draw attention to the hunger crisis confronting countries in the Lake Chad basin, including Cameroon, Chad, Niger and northeastern Nigeria. According to FAO, conflict in the region has forced an estimated 2 million people to abandon their homes and their predominantly agricultural livelihoods, in northeastern Nigeria alone. In his visit, da Silva emphasised the importance of supporting the coming planting season, without which there will be no substantial harvests until 2018. In a media briefing on his visit to the region, da Silva said that the “conflict cannot be solved only with arms,” but also is a “war against hunger and poverty.” Approximately seven million people risk suffering from severe hunger in the region, with 50,000 in northern Nigeria facing famine. Climate change has also played a role, with Lake Chad, since 1963, losing 90% of its water, which has negatively impacted food security and livelihoods.
FAO’s response strategies in the region remain severely underfunded. Of the $62 million requested under the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, FAO has received $12.5 million. For the Country Programming Framework (CPF) for Chad, FAO has mobilised less than $5 million out of the needed $73 million. On 23 March, the World Bank approved a $200 million credit to further support the Government of Nigeria in its efforts to enhance agricultural productivity of small and medium scale farmers in participating states.
FAO released the report, titled ‘Counting the Cost: Agriculture in Syria after six years of crisis,’ which gives the first comprehensive analysis of damage to the country’s the agriculture sector. The report concludes that investment in agriculture now will reduce the need for humanitarian assistance going forward, while also limiting migration and/or supporting the return of migrants. The assessment finds that US$16 billion has been lost in terms of production, along with damaged and destroyed assets and infrastructure within the agriculture sector. It estimates that rebooting the agriculture sector will require between US$11 to 17 billion, depending on the path the conflict takes.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the government in collaboration with the WFP conducted a ‘Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis,’ which reveals that 2.5% of Iraqis are already food insecure while nearly 75% of children under the age of 15 work to provide food for their families. The analysis shows that 53% of residents and 66% of internally displaced people are vulnerable to food insecurity. The study was completed before the 2017 Mosul offensive and does not capture the food security situation among people fleeing these conflict areas.
Meanwhile in Latin America, malnutrition has taken an economic toll. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and WFP released a report, titled ‘The Cost of the Double Burden of Malnutrition,’ which calculates losses in productivity, health and education in Chile, Ecuador and Mexico. The analysis discusses the two sides to malnutrition in the region – under-nutrition and obesity.
According to the study, gross domestic product (GDP) in each country shrinks every year as a result of losses in productivity caused by obesity which leads to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, and under-nutrition, which stunts growth and development. Losses are estimated at $500 million in Chile, $4.3 billion in Ecuador and $28.8 billion in Mexico, which represent respectively 0.2%, 4.3% and 2.3% losses of GDP. The study reveals that under-nutrition may be declining, while ‘over-nutrition,’ is on the rise and could become the largest social and economic burden in the region. Similar trends are unfolding in Europe and Central Asia.