DEVELOPMENT: Hunger and Conflict Go Hand in Hand

  • by Suzanne Hoeksema (united nations)
  • Saturday, October 31, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Speaking at an event titled 'Food and economic crises in post-conflict countries' Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that 'too often, it takes many months before the essential government functions resume or basic services are available. The result can be resumed conflict.'

Ban said that the soaring food prices in 2008 and 2009 drove countries affected by armed conflict to the brink of collapse, sparking food riots in 30 countries and triggering the breakdown of at least one government, in Haiti.

Security cannot be provided by military means only, argued Sarah Cliffe, director of the World Development Report 2011 on conflict, security and development, issued by the World Bank.

'Access to basic needs is just as crucial for peace to be rebuilt,' she said.

The event was organised in an attempt to close the gap between the work of the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission and the World Food Programme (WFP) and develop a more coherent U.N. strategy in post-conflict countries.

Just returned from visits to Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia and Uganda, the U.N.'s top humanitarian official, John Holmes, also appealed for international support to help countries damaged by conflict and natural disasters to recover and rebuild.

The 50,000 displaced people of northern Yemen, an area that has been 'neglected' by the international community and the media, urgently need humanitarian aid and 'there is no doubt that the situation is getting worse', Holmes told reporters.

A U.N. request to the warring parties, which resumed fighting in August after five years of peace, to cease their attacks to allow humanitarian assistance to reach uprooted civilians was rejected.

Just 36 percent of the 24-million-dollar flash appeal for Yemen launched several months ago has been funded so far, Holmes said.

Holmes also expressed concern about the situation in northern Uganda, where the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has been accused of widespread human rights violations against civilians.

'The good news is that 85 percent of the two million internally displaced people have been able to go home,' he said.

Now that the LRA seems to have left northern Uganda, surviving by means of plunder and pillage in southern Sudan, eastern Congo and the Central African Republic, emergency relief efforts are being scaled down.

Identifying a risky 'aid gap', Holmes called for continuing support to the region, especially the province of Karamoja, to make sure that people can continue to return to their homes, regain access to basic services, and help restart food production.

There are hopeful examples. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP, praised the government of post-conflict Liberia for its efforts to reduce the impact of spiraling food prices on its people by swiftly scaling up school feeding programmes.

'Food is the foundation of stability,' and investments should therefore not only be directed at food aid, but also to land, credit, fertilisers, tools and local markets, to reduce people's dependency and create a 'vital safety net', she said. Paul Farmer, the deputy special envoy for Haiti, said that providing food security in conflict-ridden countries requires three key elements: a village-level approach since national governments cannot yet be relied upon; response to acute malnutrition among vulnerable groups; and assisting the work of local farmers.

However, these measures will remain insufficient as long as the international community does not show real commitment to change macroeconomic mechanisms that keep poor countries in a position of susceptibility in times of financial and food crises, Farmer contended.

Whereas western countries are hit by the financial crisis mainly through their financial institutions, poor and conflict-ridden countries do not have the buffer of banks, but they are hit by rising food prices, declining exports, pressure on the aid budgets of donor countries, and a sharp decrease in remittances sent home by migrants.

Especially in those countries where the entire household income is spent on food, the dependence on reliable food prices is one of life and death.

Cliffe said that more focus is needed on prevention and crisis resistance, while 'the aid budget should not steal from investments'.

While supporting the effort to combine peacebuilding and food security, the Tanzanian ambassador to the U.N., Augustine P. Mahiga, argued that in countries emerging from conflict, the food and agricultural sector takes the longest to recover.

As a recipient of hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries the past decades, Tanzania has gained longstanding experience in the field of humanitarian assistance.

While political and military peacebuilding remains of high importance, food security in peace seeking countries has not yet received the priority it deserves, Mahiga said.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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