When starvation is just as deadly as a bullet

Immanuel Afolabi / The Center on Conflict and Development (ConDev) at Texas A&M University

Humanitarian aid that addresses the food crises in these countries remains separate from efforts to support conflict resolution. While the first is seen as immediate help, the other is considered long-term assistance. But when the issues of food security and violent conflict are so intertwined, their solutions should be likewise.

The threat of starvation and famine is developing at an alarming rate.  Recent estimates by the United Nations say that the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since 1946. More than 100 million people are at the risk of starvation around the world.

While a country can experience famine for many reasons – natural disaster, desertification, economic recession – a greater focus must be placed on its manmade causes. War is a huge –  and preventable – reason why millions now face starvation.

 

War is a huge –  and preventable – reason why millions now face starvation.

 

Nigeria

In Nigeria, 4.5 million people are currently in need of food assistance, and this number could reach as high as 5.5 million by September 2017. Millions have fled the violence of Boko Haram, especially in the northeast, and now remain displaced and isolated from aid. Many have been pushed off their farms, which means less money and little access to food.

Without immediate assistance, some UN officials believe that the severe food insecurity in Borno and Yobe states could become “a famine unlike any we have seen anywhere.” To tackle this crisis, targeting the root causes of violence are just as vital as addressing the more immediate issues of famine.

Local peacebuilding organisations like Peace Initiative Network do just that – by giving people economic alternatives to joining militant groups like Boko Haram, and so reduce the incentive to participate in violence.

South Sudan

In South Sudan, refugees in Unity State and surrounding areas are facing similar risks. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2013, political conflict against the president Machar, has become increasingly entrenched along ethnic divisions. For the first time in six years, the United Nations has declared a famine in central regions of South Sudan.

By July, it is estimated that nearly half the population – approximately 5.5 million people – will not have a reliable source of food. The country’s agriculture has been paralysed by ongoing war and drought, leaving people displaced by conflict with dwindling food resources. Finding lasting solutions to conflict is a crucial step in tackling this famine.

Yemen

In Yemen, two years of sustained war has left around two thirds of the Yemeni population – nearly 17 million people – at risk of famine. The crisis is heightened with the escalation of violence, particularly along the Red Sea front, which prevents the flow of desperately needed supplies to communities isolated by conflict.

The UN’s Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator McGoldrick stated that crippling the economy and food sources is being used as “a means to wage war.” Not only are people in Yemen losing food resources as a result of sustained conflict and economic loss, potential resources are being deliberately blocked by warring groups.

 

Starvation can be just as deadly as a bullet. Ongoing conflict is destroying lives and denying access to crucial resources.

 

The disastrous effect of violence and famine on these communities is undeniable. Starvation can be just as deadly as a bullet. Ongoing conflict is destroying lives and denying access to crucial resources.

Humanitarian aid that addresses the food crises in these countries remains separate from efforts to support conflict resolution. While the first is seen as immediate help, the other is considered long-term assistance. But when the issues of food security and violent conflict are so intertwined, their solutions should be likewise.

The international community cannot afford to wait to address these problems in a cohesive and coordinated way.  Lives are on the line. Solutions to the conflict must be found. And local voices should be at the heart of this.

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