Rome, May 10 (IANS/AKI) Conflict has increased food insecurity in the Near East and to reverse this situation it is crucial to strengthen the resilience of poor, rural communities, including through social protection systems, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said on Thursday.
“Even in conflict situations, there is much we can do, to keep local food systems functioning and bring hope to affected populations. We need to keep farmers on their farms producing food,” he said at the opening of FAO’s Regional Conference for the Near East – defined as the Middle East plus Turkey and Afghanistan – which is being attended by ministers and other top officials from more than 30 countries.
Da Silva noted that up until 2013, the region was enjoying a period of overall decrease in undernourishment, but that since then food insecurity in the region has increased 15 percent especially due to the situations of prolonged conflict faced bu some countries.
The level of inadequate nutrition in countries facing conflict in the Near East and North Africa region is about 28 percent of their population – six times larger than in non-conflict countries in the region.
He also noted that in 2016, there were almost 66 million forcibly displaced people in the world with nearly 25 million originating from just five countries facing conflict in the Near East and North Africa region.
FAO’s highest priority is to support countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goal Number 2 on ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition, and also promoting sustainable agriculture development, da Silva said.
The Conference Chair, Ghazi Zeaiter, Minister for Agriculture of the Lebanon, called for a peaceful solution to the crises in the region. “One third of the countries in the Near East and North Africa are home to or witness to conflicts,” he said.
To address the damage to infrastructure and economic losses and the problem of displacement and refugees, “collective and wide-scale actions,” are required, Zeaiter added, noting the disruptions suffered by his own country, Lebanon.
While peace remains the main prerequisite for countries in the Near East and North Africa to achieve Zero Hunger, the region also faces other challenges affecting its already limited resources to produce food.
Fresh water availability in the region is only 10 per cent of the world average – a situation that is not likely to improve as climate change impacts accelerate, and rapid urbanization and population growth continue.
In this regard, Da Silva cited FAO’ s launch of the Regional Water Scarcity Initiative which has been endorsed by the League of Arab States and which he said has been working well as a platform for collaboration and exchange of knowledge.
And as a “first step for transformative strategic planning of scarce water resources” eight countries in the region are in the process of building strong water accounting systems,” he said.
He also noted how in the context of climate change, “it is of utmost importance to promote the adaptation of food systems” and that agroecology has much to offer in this regard, in terms of mitigating greenhouse gases, as well as safeguarding natural resources and biodiversity.
Other FAO initiatives in the region include Small Scale Farming, which recognizes the importance of creating farm and off-farm employment, as a major source of income in rural areas, Building Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, to develop coherent and evidence-based policy and programmes to meet countries’ food security and nutrition demands whilst building resilience and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Da Silva also noted that FAO is assisting countries combat the spread of transboundary animal and pest disease, which has been accelerating due to climate change. These include endemic problems, such as the desert locust, the Red Palm Weevil, Foot-and-Mouth Disease, as well as new challenges such as the Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that affects olive trees.
Stressing the importance of enhancing regional collaboration to address this situation, he said that the FAO is working to promote strong coordination, preparedness, early warning, prevention, surveillance and response capacities.