Many countries in the Near East and North Africa deserve praise for keeping food security high on their agenda. As a result of this perseverance, 14 Arab countries achieved the target set by UN Millennium Development Goal 1 to halve the proportion of individuals suffering from hunger during the period 1990 to 2015.
But today the NENA region faces challenges that threaten its ability to achieve zero hunger by 2030 and other Sustainable Development Goals. These challenges include primarily conflict situations, but also the impacts of climate change, scarce and mismanaged natural resources, distress migration, and persistent poverty.
This week, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is convening at its headquarters in Rome the NENA regional conference. The event provides an opportunity for the 30 countries in the region to discuss the way forward for achieving sustainable development.
The challenge is substantial. Some countries, mired in conflict, risk being left behind. In fact, the costs of conflict are immense. In 2016 alone, the number of deaths in the region due to conflict has been estimated at 82,000.
As of mid-2016, the total number of displaced persons in the world registered by the UNHCR reached an all-time high of 67.6 million, nearly 25 million of which originated from only five countries in the NENA region: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Sudan.
The violence associated with much of the conflict has also eroded the ability of people to feed themselves. Since 2013, the number of hungry people in the NENA region has increased by 15 percent. In the period 2015 to 2017, 48 million people faced hunger in the region, an increase of 5.8 million on 2011 to 13. Three-quarters of those who fell into hunger came from the previously mentioned five countries.
Peace is a fundamental element to ending the crises in the region, but the international community cannot wait for peace to take actionJosé Graziano da Silva
A fundamental element
Peace is a fundamental element to ending the protracted crises in the region, but the international community cannot wait for peace to take action. Even in conflict situations, much can be done to fight hunger and give hope to those affected that a better future is possible.
Social protection programs are, for instance, an invaluable tool in this regard. These include cash transfers, seed rations, support for vegetable production, as well as livestock treatment and vaccination.
In the Dohuk and Irbil governorates of Iraq, for example, the FAO is supporting internally displaced persons and vulnerable host households to improve their livelihoods, nutrition and food security through vegetable production using greenhouses, backyard poultry, cottage industries and honey production.
In Yemen, the FAO supports beekeeping and dairy value chains to improve livelihoods among conflict-stricken communities while adding value to agriculture. And in Jordan and Lebanon, the FAO is working to improve the livelihoods and food security of vulnerable agriculture-based communities hosting Syrian refugees.
Investing in local food production is essential to giving affected people the conditions for them to live on their own, for them to get back to their normal work, to do what they know. To save lives, we have to save their livelihoods.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
José Graziano da Silva is the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. His twitter handle is @grazianodasilva.