By: Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue
16 October 2017, Geneva: The World Food Programme estimates that more than 100 million people worldwide face severe food insecurity. The situation is most severe in countries affected by conflict and violence including Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan and Yemen affecting more than 40 million people. Another 22 million people in Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Haiti and Mozambique are affected by the adverse impact of climate change and environmental degradation. On top of this, more than 30 million people in several of these countries and Somalia are at risk of famine and starvation. The combination of violence and conflict and the adverse impact of climate change have contributed to a global food crisis that is affecting more than 40 countries in the world.
This year’s 2017 World Food Day theme highlights an important subject that is often neglected by international decision-makers as violence and conflict are often seen as the main triggering factors of the protracted migration and refugee crisis. “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development” is an important occasion to raise awareness of the adverse impact of food insecurity, environmental degradation and climate change which exacerbate the refugee and migration crisis. During a high-level event at the United Nations in September 2016 on food insecurity and the refugee crisis, the Secretary-General of the United Nations observed that providing access to food to displaced people remains a critical issue:
“Food is a matter of life and death – especially for people in need, like refugees. Many of the millions of refugees in our world are food insecure. They face the grave risk of malnutrition. We have a moral obligation to help them.”
But if food had been available locally in the first place, there would also be far fewer migrants.
The Sahel region of Africa has been in the spotlight for decades owing to the severe environmental alterations that have transformed the region’s outlook. Since 1963, Lake Chad has lost 90% of its volume disrupting the livelihoods of 21 million people living in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon who rely on the lake’s resources to meet their basic needs. The lack of access to resources owing to the adverse and disruptive effects of climate change has impeded the ability of countries in the Sahel region to create a sustainable economic model fostering economic growth, development and prosperity. Climate change is exacerbating already adverse natural conditions leaving affected people with no other choice than to flee. With the population of Sahel set to increase three-fold to 300 million people by 2050, it is likely that food insecurity and lack of access to natural resources will become issues of growing concern to the region. A global framework to respond to the adverse impact of climate change on agricultural production, food security and other related issues is needed more than ever.
The situation in Syria is an example of a country that has been severely affected by food insecurity owing to the escalation of armed conflicts. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 9 million Syrians are in need of food assistance as a result of decreasing agricultural output and lowered yields. Syria – once described as the “the breadbasket of Rome” as agriculture constituted once 24% of the country’s GDP – is on the brink of a severe famine that could further starve the majority of its remaining inhabitants. This shows that food insecurity will contribute to forced migration of people as the conflict has severely disrupted farming and food production putting severe pressure on the remaining population. The emigration of farmers has rapidly deteriorated Syria’s agricultural production to a historic rock bottom level.
These examples show that lingering food insecurity and lack of rural development as a result of climate change and armed conflicts have exacerbated the refugee and migrant crisis. The “protective fencing” of Europe and mass expulsions of forcibly displaced people are not adequate solutions to respond to the unfolding crisis. Providing for adequate livelihood opportunities and revitalising the agricultural sector in countries severely affected by the loss of human capital as well as empowering rural women constitute an Ariadne thread towards the solution. Furthermore, countries hosting and providing protection to displaced people also deserve support. Refugees and migrants in the Middle East are in need of food assistance as the steady arrival of displaced people is putting pressure on host countries to identify solutions to their plight. The solution to the crisis is not just national or regional. It is global.