Hunger decreases globally, increases in Middle East

Marwa Hussein, Monday 29 Sep 2014

Armed conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in a considerable increase in the number of undernourished people in the region

Children wait to collect water in Aleppo April 2, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The number of individuals chronically undernourished in the Middle East and North Africa more than doubled in 2012-14, reaching 12.6 million, or six percent of the population compared to 2008-2010.

The date comes from the latest report on the State of Food Insecurity in the World released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Worldwide hunger has decreased during the last decade, bringing the number of undernourished people worldwide to 805 million, affecting 11.3 percent of the global population.

"We need to be concerned because it is the only region where numbers of undernourished people remained stable during the last two decades," said Carlos Scaramella, Deputy Regional Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Bureau, during a press conference in Cairo on Monday.

Scarmella attributed the fast deterioration in the situation to the rise of conflicts in the region that have resulted in the displacement of millions, many of whom have become refugees. The trend is also exacerbated by urbanisation and a lack of focus on rural areas in the region.

Food security has deteriorated in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza.

FAO estimates damage to the agriculture sector in Gaza at $500 million due to the 50-day Israeli bombardment. In the other three countries many farmers have been obliged to abandon their lands. 

In Yemen, around "80 percent of internally displaced people are from farming or sharecropping families," the FAO report says.

In Syria, 2013/14 cereal production is expected to shrink by 52 percent in while the number in need of food support has increased by 50 percent since mid 2013, to affect 6.3 million people.

The prevalence of food insecurity in the above countries could bypass borders to affect other countries.

"Syria was a major producer in the region, exporting part of its food production. The circulation of food and farmers is dramatically affected and might influence neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon who have limited land," says Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa at the FAO.

He believes the humanitarian crisis in Syria is the worst of this century, while its end is still unpredictable.

"If we put the image in a broader context we realise we are facing some changes that are irreversible. However the image is very mixed in the region as we see potential for improvement," said Scarmella.

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