Famine on the rise in the Middle East and North Africa

Prolonged crises are threatening food security for some 52 million in the region

Migrants sit at a naval base after being rescued by Libyan coast guards in Tripoli, Libya June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
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Famine continues to rise as conflicts have worsened in the Middle East and North Africa with more than 52 million people undernourished, the UN food agency said on Wednesday.

Protracted crisis in the region has led the UN body to warn that food security will be affected for years to come for millions more in the region without efforts to provide relief or peace.

"Fifty-two million people in the region are suffering from chronic undernourishment" with two-thirds of them in conflict zones, the FAO said in a statement.

The FAO said more than 20 per cent of children under five were malnourished in the region. The majority of those living in famine came from Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, whose ongoing four-year war has killed tens of thousands of people, triggering what the UN has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Eight out of the 20 most obese countries in the world are from the Middle East and North Africa region, including the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Qatar and Egypt. Yemen and Sudan are among the top 10 hungriest nations in the world.

"Conflicts and protracted crises have spread and worsened since 2011, threatening the region's efforts" to eliminate hunger, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The fighting in Yemen has displaced 3.3 million people and made 24.1 million in need of desperate aid. The UN has said that some 13 million in Yemen are on the brink of famine.

“Conflicts and civil instability have long-lasting impacts on the food and nutrition security of both affected and surrounding countries in the regions”, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Assistant Director-General and NENA Representative, said.

The FAO said rising hunger was also made worse in the region by rapid population growth, scarce and fragile natural resources and the growing threat of climate change.

Climate Change is among the leading causes of rising global hunger, according to a report released by the FAO in September.

Pointing to extreme weather events, land degradation and desertification, water scarcity and rising sea levels, the authors show how climate change already undermines global efforts to eradicate hunger.

Overall, the number of hungry people grew for the third year in row in 2017, reaching a total of 821 million worldwide. The paper warns that this number will continue to rise if countries fail to tackle climate change and to build resilience to its unavoidable impacts.

The FAO says conflicts and inadequate rural transformation have hampered efforts to eliminate famine by 2030 – a goal set out by the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Mr Ahmed said that more efforts are needed to end conflict. This, he said, must be followed by efforts to boost rural employment, stimulate economic growth and improve agricultural practices.