(José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization) - Many countries in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) deserve praise
for keeping food security high on their agenda. As a result of this perseverance, 14 Arab countries have achieved the target set by Millennium Development Goal 1 to halve the proportion of individuals suffering from hunger during the period 1990-2015.
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.
From 7 to 11 May, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is convening in its Headquarters in Rome the Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa. 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 in 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 2011-13, the number of hungry people in the Near East and North Africa has increased by 15 percent. In 2015-17, 48 million people faced hunger in the region, an increase of 5.8 million persons since 2011-13. Three-fourths of those who fell into hunger came from the aforementioned five countries in conflict.
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 programmes 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 Duhok and Erbil governorates of Iraq, for example, 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, FAO supports beekeeping and dairy value chains to improve livelihoods among conflict-stricken communities while adding value to agriculture. And in Jordan and Lebanon, 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.
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