Starving Populations Feeding Continuing Conflicts

2 mins read

By Gilles Jourdan

Food insecurity feeds the vicious circle of starvation suffered by the populations living in protracted conflict-affected countries. Indeed, states that lack the institutions and capacities to provide political and economic stability are often on the break of both conflict and famine. This issue, which further increases the state of malnutrition in developing countries, has to be addressed urgently. Not only food deficiency has a direct effect on the population’s health, but the long-term outcomes can be even more devastating. An over-exposure to nutrition deficiency at a young age can cause irreversible physical and cognitive lesions endangering the development of both present and future generations. 

It would be a shortcut to argue that food insecurity can be the sole explanation of the emergence of a conflict. Most of the recent civil conflicts have emerged because of multiple factors and, even if food security was one of them, it was never the only one. However, that the impact of hunger and the difficult access to food further the continuity of an existing conflict is uncontested. In fact, the distressed households have to find alternative ways to procure for their families, very often through illegal activities. Because the rebellious actors and/or armed groups have a considerable amount of power and resources, in regions otherwise victim of massive shortages, they can provide a sustainable source of nutrition and wealth and thus are attractive to the population. For example, “the cultivation of drug crops, be it coca in Colombia, opium in Afghanistan and Myanmar, or cannabis in the West Africas” have all been known to be supervised by armed groups while ‘employing’ volunteering civilians. Even though it is not the sole option for the suffering population, criminal activities are rapid ways to reach their necessities, which in turn, perpetuates the cycle of violence.

Another relation between conflict and food security is that the tensions in conflict-affected regions greatly aggravate the chains of production and shipment. Since most of those conflicts affect principally rural areas, the impacts on agricultural and livestock productions are devastating. The aftermaths of such disruptions are multiple. Obviously, the amount of food available is reduced, causing uncertainty amongst the population and thus civic unrest. However, it is not the only outcome. The shortages of food often create a ‘race for nutrition’ where every aliment is considered a rare commodity, increasing the prices exponentially. With basic nutritional means being so expensive, black markets can develop, resulting in even more instability in the country and increasing the prominence of illegal trades. Such developments occurred in Venezuela when Maduro’s presidency had been accused of leading similar criminal activities by encouraging the food shortages in his country in order to make personal profit. 

Then, the question remains: food insecurity and conflicts are tightly intertwined, but can we use sustainable nutrition supply in order to build peace? The debate amongst academics is still alive, but they globally concede that it is never self-sufficient. Combined with other peacebuilding programs, the Food and Agriculture Organization argues that “interventions aimed at improving food security can build resilience and help both countries and populations to cope and recover from conflicts”. Thus, greater stability in that area could help reduce the recruitment of armed and/or rebellious groups, de-escalating the circle of violence. Also, it seems that governments should put higher efforts in shielding consumers and producers from price shocks through safety nets and price stabilization measures. Such policies would help the prevention of black markets and preserve local and legal trades, thus helping the population experience dignified and peaceful lives.

By Gilles Jourdan

Illustration: Hamza Awan

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