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52m people going hungry in Mideast, North Africa: UN

A total 52 million people are chronically undernourished and hunger is on the rise in the Near East and North Africa region, driven by its worsening conflicts, a new United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report said on Wednesday.

“Conflicts and civil instability have long-lasting impacts on the food and nutrition security of both affected and surrounding countries in the regions,” Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional NENA Representative, wrote in the forward to the report.

Over two-thirds of the region’s hungry – some 34 million people – live in conflict-hit countries, compared with 18 million who live in countries not impacted directly by conflict, according to the Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa.

Stunting, wasting, and malnutrition in children are also far worse in conflict countries than in the others, the report found.

The deepening conflicts that have spread and dragged on since 2011 have also hurt farming and animal husbandry, meaning less food is available across the region, according to the report.

“The impact of the conflict has been disrupting food and livestock production in some countries and consequently affecting the availability of food across the region,” Ould Ahmed said.

Population growth, climate change and the depletion of natural resources are also causes of increasing hunger levels in NENA, he underlined.

“Rising hunger is also compounded by rapid population growth, scarce and fragile natural resources, the growing threat of climate change, increasing unemployment rates, and diminished rural infrastructure and services,” he added.

The growing conflicts afflicting the region are jeopardising its efforts to achieve the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including Zero Hunger, as is inadequate rural transformation, the report warns.

“Countries that are not in conflict and have gone furthest in transforming rural areas in a sustainable way including through better management of water resources, have achieved better food security and nutrition outcomes than those in conflict or with lower levels of rural transformation,” said Ould Ahmed.

He noted how the report stresses that more efforts are needed to tackle high rural jobless rates in NENA – especially for youth and women – to stimulate economic growth in rural areas, cut “significant” disparities in living standards and poverty rates between rural and urban areas, and improve agricultural productivity and rural infrastructure and services.

Around 40 per cent of NENA’s population lives in rural areas – where the majority of poor are living and where poverty rates are twice those in rural areas. Average wages agricultural workers are”far below” those employed in other sectors, the report shows.

Access to education, health, housing and other public services and for rural dwellers need to improve, as these differences widen the labour productivity gap between traditional agriculture and industry and services, the report finds. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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