Acute famine and severe food security continue to affect large parts of the populations in Yemen, Syria and parts of East Africa.
In Sri Lanka, rice production is projected to fall by 40% in 2017, placing around 900,000 people in a state of food insecurity.
UN agencies are undertaking measures to address drought and to improve resilience overall.
July 2017: Acute famine and severe food security continue to affect large parts of the populations in Yemen, Syria and parts of East Africa. In Sri Lanka, rice production is projected to fall by 40% in 2017, placing around 900,000 people in a state of food insecurity. While much of the international community’s response focuses on immediate relief, initiatives are also working to improve resilience and prevent future hunger crises including through the pursuit of quality education, gender equality and drought/water management.
No Improvement without Peace in Yemen
The UN Security Council has been briefed repeatedly on the conflict in Yemen and its consequences for hunger and food security. Most recently, on 12 July, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) informed Council members of how the conflict and violence in Yemen have caused “the largest humanitarian crisis today” by disrupting agricultural livelihoods and markets, subjecting 17 million people to hunger and severe food insecurity. Referring to the latest Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) conducted in March 2017, da Silva reported a 20% increase in the number of severely food insecure people, including seven million estimated to be on the brink of acute famine. Noting that crop production fell by 40% since the conflict began and risks of livestock disease outbreak is increasing, he outlined FAO’s response measures, including reaching out to 450,000 people with a mix of measures on animal health, dairy, animal feed, crops and vegetable production.[FAO Press Release] [IPC Analysis Yemen – Summary of Findings]
Graziano da Silva’s update came approximately one month after the Security Council issued a Presidential Statement calling on parties in Yemen to engage in constructive conflict resolution. On 15 June, Security Council President Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia) presented the statement, which condemned a recent attack on the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Yemen. The statement expresses the Council’s “grave concern about the devastating humanitarian impact of the conflict on civilians,” as well as the recent outbreak of cholera, underlining that the situation will deteriorate in the absence of a political solution. Among other demands, the Council calls on all parties to: comply with international humanitarian law; ensure security and safety of UN personnel; respect and protect medical facilities and personnel; and allow safe rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian supplies. The statement further calls on all parties to engage constructively and in good faith to overcome obstacles and find a peaceful solution, while ensuring at least 30% representation of women. The Council Members also call for immediate mobilization of the funds pledged to Yemen at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland on 25 April and for Member States to fully implement an arms embargo.[UN Press Release] [UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Yemen]
On 16 June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) alerted the international community of a severe outbreak of cholera in Yemen, noting that more than 135,000 people are estimated to have contracted the disease with close to 1,000 casualties as of mid-June 2017. In a press release, OHCHR’s experts warned that children are at particular risk of contracting and dying from the disease, and urged all stakeholders to strengthen initiatives to build and repair infrastructures to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation. [OHCHR Press Release]
Improvements in Syria and South Sudan
Despite the continuing conflict in Syria, the country’s farmers were able to produce 12% more wheat than in 2016 due to favorable rains; however FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that the food security situation in Syria remains far worse than it was before the conflict. In a joint report released on 18 July, the two agencies estimate that 6.9 million people remain food insecure with an additional 5.6 million people depending on regular food assistance. The report also notes that while access by humanitarian agencies has improved in some besieged areas, it continues to be heavily constrained in several cities where airdrops remain the only option to supply the population with food and other supplies. The special report provides detailed information regarding: cereal, other crop and livestock production; local food markets; cereal supply and demand; and household food security. The publication recommends continued food assistance, as well as complementary measures to improve food security such as: livelihood activities; cash-based transfers; back-to-school and school meal programmes; local procurement and specific investments in the agricultural sector. [UN Press Release] [FAO Press Release] [WFP Press Release] [Special Report: FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the Syrian Arab Republic]
South Sudan is experiencing its highest-ever level of food insecurity, due to the ongoing armed conflict, scanty harvests and high food prices. The FAO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the WFP are increasing their relief operations, such that: WFP has reached 3.4 million people in South Sudan since the beginning of the year, including assistance for 2.6 million people displaced or affected by conflict and 800,000 people through a recovery operation; UNICEF and partners have treated some 76,000 children with severe acute malnutrition and provided 500,000 people with safe drinking water and 200,000 others with access to sanitation facilities; and FAO has provided fishing, crop- and vegetable-growing kits to more than 2.8 million people, including 200,000 in the famine-affected areas, and vaccinated more than 6 million livestock to save lives through livelihoods. While the famine has eased, the UN estimates that six million people struggle to find food every day. [UN Press Release on South Sudan]
Addressing the Impacts of Drought
East Africa experienced the third failed rainy season in a row, prompting FAO to issue a warning about the region’s food security prospects. A special alert issued by the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) identifies parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as major areas of concern suffering from serious deterioration of food security conditions. The publication notes that prolonged drought and localized pest infestations have reduced yields, leading to soaring prices of food cereals and limited access for poor households. It states that recurrent climatic shocks have undermined household resilience, leading to an increase of 30% in the people threatened by food insecurity to about 16 million people. In a press release announcing the report, FAO Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon called for sustained humanitarian support to prevent further deterioration of the situation in affected countries. [UN Press Release] [FAO Press Release] [FAO-GIEWS Special Alert East Africa]
In Sri Lanka, rice production is projected to fall by 40% in 2017, placing around 900,000 people in a state of food insecurity. A joint assessment by UN agencies showed that many people have been affected by drought, resulting in a drop of income by more than half, affecting around 900,000 people. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and WFP are providing seeds and equipment for irrigation and planting to the affected farmers, and in the short-term, are recommending cash transfers to the most vulnerable families. [UN Press Release]
da Silva called for a “global re-boot” in investments, noting that drought not only causes hunger, but also leads to economic losses of up to US$8 billion annually.
One measure to improve farmers’ ability to cope with drought in regions such as East Africa is to invest in drought preparedness and resilience; however according to FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, such investments are currently insufficient. Speaking at an international seminar on Drought and Agriculture, da Silva called for a “global re-boot” in investments, noting that drought not only causes hunger, but also leads to economic losses of up to US$8 billion annually. Held on the World Day to Combat Desertification (19 June), the seminar focused on ways to promote and support partnerships to enable targeted actions for drought response, agricultural production and sustainable use of water in agriculture. During the event, FAO also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to deepen the institutions’ collaboration in responding to climate variability and climate change, including improving agro-meteorological data, tools and methods, and improved access for small scale farmers to services and products relevant for drought preparedness. [UN Press Release] [FAO Press Release] [WMO Press Release] [Seminar Webpage]
Investing in Resilience
With financial support from Canada, FAO, WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) launched a five-year initiative to assist vulnerable communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger and Somalia to address immediate food needs, improve their resilience to shocks and address the root causes of hunger. The Canadian government will provide US$38 million over the course of the initiative to fund activities aiming to sustainably increase food security and strengthen resilience in vulnerable families with a special focus on women and children. [IFAD Press Release] [WFP Press Release]
In related news, IFAD also announced the provision of financing to the government of Zambia to increase the incomes and food and nutrition security for rural households. The US$29.7 million project, including a US$21.2 million loan and a US$1 million loan from IFAD, will promote “market-oriented” agriculture through projects focusing on women and youth. Among other measures, the initiative aims to improve smallholder farmers’ access to markets through investments along the value chain, including agribusiness partnerships, improved policy environment and risk management. [IFAD Press Release]
Another route towards improving global food security is to increase agricultural output in emerging countries where significant potential for agricultural development remains, such as the group of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, also known as BRICS countries. Participants to the seventh Meeting of BRICS Ministers of Agriculture and Agrarian Development discussed with representatives of FAO, IFAD, WFP and other international institutions how the members of the group can lead efforts to address SDG 2 by boosting their agricultural output. Among other issues, delegates discussed how developing countries could follow the BRICS’ example of development by investing in agricultural research, inclusive rural development and social protection, as well as strategies to realize the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs). [UN Press Release] [FAO Press Release]