Arab region trapped in vicious circle of conflict and hunger: FAO-led report

Arab region trapped in vicious circle of conflict and hunger: FAO-led report
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Updated 26 June 2021

Arab region trapped in vicious circle of conflict and hunger: FAO-led report

Arab region trapped in vicious circle of conflict and hunger: FAO-led report
  • War and instability are undermining Arab region’s earlier progress on nutrition and food security
  • 137 million people in NENA region were food insecure even before the pandemic

BOGOTA, Colombia: Conflict has been the primary driver behind a rise in hunger across the Near East and North Africa (NENA) since 2015-17, according to a report published by a coalition of aid agencies on Thursday, which also identified a wide gap between those Arab countries embroiled in hostilities and those at peace.

The report, titled “Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa 2020: Enhancing Resilience of Food Systems in the Arab States,” assessed food-system resilience and nutrition in 22 countries stretching from Tunisia in the west to Yemen in the east.

According to its 2019 estimates, about 51.4 million people in the region — around 12.2 percent of the population — were already going hungry before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further exacerbated disruptions to supply chains and livelihoods.

About 137 million people in the region were deemed to be either moderately or severely food insecure, lacking regular access to sufficient and nutritious food — a trend that is expected to worsen unless measures are taken to improve systemic resilience.

As a result of this trend, the report predicts the region almost certainly will fail to meet its commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate hunger by the end of the decade. In fact, based on its current trajectory, the number of people affected by hunger is expected to rise above 75 million by 2030.

“The wave of instability and conflicts has applied stress to food systems, with the direct and indirect effects manifesting in several ways. But the most visible consequence is the massive wave of forced migration, both internally and between countries,” Abdulhakim Elwaer, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative for the NENA, told Arab News.

“For example, according to the report’s findings, as of 2020, 5 million Syrians were dependent on aid from the UN World Food Program (WFP). In addition, Lebanese workers now compete with Syrian migrants for agricultural jobs, increasing rural unemployment and poverty and obstructing food access. 

“Meanwhile, in south Yemen, 29.8 million people were reported to be acutely food insecure in 2020, mainly due to the impact of violence, alongside other pre-existing socioeconomic conditions.”




According to its 2019 estimates, about 51.4 million people in the NENA region — around 12.2 percent of the population — were already going hungry before the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/File Photo)

The report is based on a collaboration between FAO, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the World Health Organization.

What is especially troubling about its findings is the impact that hunger and food insecurity is having on public health and child development. According to the report’s 2019 estimates, 22.5 percent of children under the age of 5 were stunted, 9.2 percent wasted, and 9.9 percent overweight.

Also owing to poor nutrition, 27 percent of the region’s adult population are classified as obese, making the Arab region the second-worst offender for obesity in the world. The same dietary shortcomings have left 35 percent of women of reproductive age anemic.

Conflict was found to be the leading cause of the degrading hunger situation in the Arab region. Although the report recorded a sustained decline in undernourishment in Arab countries since 2000-02, this downward trend came to a halt in 2014-16, coinciding with a significant uptick in regional violence.




About 137 million people in the region were deemed to be either moderately or severely food insecure, lacking regular access to sufficient and nutritious food. (AFP/File Photo)

Indeed, during this period, Gaza suffered almost two months under heavy Israeli bombardment, Daesh seized control of vast areas of Iraq and Syria, Libya descended into its second civil war, Iran-backed Houthis took control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, and Somalia and Sudan both experienced renewed violence — a combination of which contributed to the biggest human displacement since the Second World War.

“The decline in food security and the fight against hunger was apparent globally since 2015, with conflict in the NENA region and other parts of the world among the main contributors to that setback,” said Elwaer.

“However, even when the direction of change in the region was still positive, between 11 and 12 percent of the adult population in NENA still suffered from hunger and severe food insecurity.”

According to the report, undernourishment in the region’s non-conflict countries has ranged between 5 and 8 percent since 2000-02. This is about two to three times that of most developed countries where undernourishment is commonly below 2.5 percent.




According to the report’s 2019 estimates, 22.5 percent of children under the age of 5 were stunted, 9.2 percent wasted, and 9.9 percent overweight. (AFP/File Photo)

Hunger in conflict countries, meanwhile, has been much higher than in non-conflict countries, in the order of 24 to 30 percent. It had trended downward up until 2014-16, after which it began to rise.

For example, conflict-torn Iraq saw its prevalence of undernourishment fall from 25 percent during 2007-09 to 21.8 percent during 2011-13, only to rise again to 24 percent during 2015-17.

Although the figure fell to 23.7 percent during 2017-19, population growth means that the number of undernourished people in Iraq has consistently grown from 6.5 million in 2009-11 to 9.1 million in 2017-19.

INNUMBERS

* 12.2% - Share of NENA population already going hungry before the pandemic. 

* 137m - NENA population deemed moderately or severely food insecure.

* 50% - Share of Arab region population who cannot afford a healthy diet.

By contrast, comparatively peaceful Algeria has seen its prevalence of undernourishment fall consistently from 5.6 percent during 2007-09 to 3.2 in 2015-17 — and it has continued to fall since. Meanwhile, in the affluent Gulf state of Kuwait, the rate has remained consistently below 2.5 percent over the entire period.

Although it is the primary factor, conflict is not the only cause of growing hunger and food insecurity in the region. The report also highlighted the weaknesses of regional food systems, hampered by the effects of climate change, bad policymaking, and economic disruption, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The full impact of the pandemic on food security in the region is difficult to assess in this report, which reflects the pre-COVID-19 situation,” said Elwaer. “However, it is safe to conclude the pandemic has further exposed regional vulnerabilities.”

Other pressures on food supply chains were found to include water scarcity, a strong dependence on imports, inequality, population growth and mass migration.




The report found that healthy diets are unaffordable for more than 50 percent of the Arab region’s population — higher than the global average of 38 percent. (AFP/File Photo)

“In addition to poor policies, shocks and stresses can affect the agrifood economy to worsen hunger and nutrition. In some countries, national policies further stress resources with unsustainable groundwater extractions leading to saltwater intrusion,” he said.

“For example, Saudi Arabia in the past used to practice intensive wheat farming at a high cost to freshwater aquifers. This practice has been corrected with recent, more sustainable and effective policies.”

The high cost of healthy eating was also found to be a factor, whereby nutritious diets with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, meat and dairy were estimated to cost around five times more than one that meets basic energy needs through a starchy staple such as rice and bread.

Indeed, the report found that healthy diets are unaffordable for more than 50 percent of the Arab region’s population — higher than the global average of 38 percent.




The number of people affected by hunger is expected to rise above 75 million by 2030. (AFP/File Photo)

Elwaer said that both conflict and non-conflict countries in the region need to pursue policies that will mitigate this wide array of challenges. 

“Awareness-raising is key if we want to improve food security and nutrition among the public. Some countries in the region showed serious intent to tackle the mitigating factors. However, there is much more needed to reverse food security and nutrition’s decline,” he said.

“It could seem a considerable ask of countries under the current pandemic situation. Still, food security and nutrition are key to the sustainable development agenda, which affects the well-being of populations and overall economic and social growth.”

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Twitter: @RobertPEdwards


Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization
Updated 6 sec ago

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalization

IRBIL: More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, attended a conference in autonomous Kurdistan organized by a US think-tank demanding a normalization of relations between Baghdad and Israel, organizers said Saturday.
The first initiative of its kind in Iraq, where Israel’s sworn enemy Iran has a very strong influence, the conference took place on Friday and was organized by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC).
The CPC advocates for normalizing relations between Israel and Arab countries, alongside working to establish ties between civil society organizations.
Iraqi Kurdistan maintains cordial contacts with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Four Arab nations — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — last year agreed to normalize ties with Israel in a US-sponsored process dubbed the Abraham Accords.
“We demand our integration into the Abraham Accords,” said Sahar Al-Tai, one of the attendees, reading a closing statement in a conference room at a hotel in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil.
“Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel,” she said.
“No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call,” added Tai, head of research at the Iraqi federal government’s culture ministry.
The 300 participants at the conference came from across Iraq, according to CPC founder Joseph Braude, a US citizen of Iraqi Jewish origin.
They included Sunni and Shiite representatives from “six governorates: Baghdad, Mosul, Salaheddin, Al-Anbar, Diyala and Babylon,” extending to tribal chiefs and “intellectuals and writers,” he told AFP by phone.
Other speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of an Israeli foundation established by his father, the late president Shimon Peres.
“Normalization with Israel is now a necessity,” said Sheikh Rissan Al-Halboussi, an attendee from Anbar province, citing the examples of Morocco and the UAE.
Kurdish Iraqi leaders have repeatedly visited Israel over the decades and local politicians have openly demanded Iraq normalize ties with the Jewish state, which itself backed a 2017 independence referendum in the autonomous region.


Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report

Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report
Updated 18 min 44 sec ago

Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report

Morocco gets 1st batch of Turkish armed drones: report
  • Morocco already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance operations along its borders

RABAT: Morocco took delivery earlier this month of Turkish combat drones, the Far-Maroc unofficial website dedicated to military news reported.
The report, also carried by several local media outlets, comes as tensions have spiked between Morocco and neighboring Algeria in recent weeks.
The two countries are mainly at odds over the disputed Western Sahara territory, and Algeria severed ties with Morocco in August claiming “provocations and hostile” action by its neighbor.
Relations took another blow this week when Algeria on Wednesday said it has closed off its airspace to all Moroccan civilian and military traffic.
According to Far-Maroc, the North African kingdom ordered 13 Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey in April and a first batch of the unmanned aircraft arrived this month.
Rabat, said the report, seeks to “modernize the arsenal of the Moroccan Armed Forces (FAR) in order to prepare for any danger and recent hostilities,” but did not elaborate on these topics.
It did however add that Moroccan military personnel have trained in Turkey in recent weeks to work with the drones.
Media reports said Morocco signed a $70 million contract with the private Turkish company Baykar.
The firm is run by one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-laws and has been exporting its Bayraktar TB2 model to Ukraine, Qatar and Azerbaijan for some years.
According to the company’s website, the Bayraktar TB2 is a “medium altitude long endurance tactical unmanned aerial vehicle capable of conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and armed attack missions” with a range of up to 27 hours.
Morocco already uses drones for intelligence and surveillance operations along its borders, according to military experts.
The Western Sahara dispute pits Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front which fought a war of independence with Rabat from 1975 to 1991.
Morocco laid claim to the former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries after Spain withdrew in 1975, and controls around 80 percent of it.
Rabat has offered autonomy there and maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination, in line with the terms of a 1991 UN-backed cease-fire deal.
Tensions rose sharply in November when Morocco sent troops into a buffer zone to reopen the only road linking Morocco to Mauritania and the rest of West Africa. The road had been blocked by the separatists.


UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff

UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff
Updated 30 min 17 sec ago

UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff

UAE daily COVID-19 numbers continue to decline as country readies for Expo 2020 kickoff
  • The country’s COVID-19 total number of cases recorded since the start of the pandemic now stands at 734,275

DUBAI: The UAE’s daily coronavirus cases continue to decline, with health officials on Friday confirming 303 new infections and three virus-related deaths.

The country’s COVID-19 total number of cases recorded since the start of the pandemic now stands at 734,275 with 2,086 fatalities related to the disease. 

The government’s inoculation program, coupled with an active testing policy for the early detection and intervention for coronavirus cases, has provided at least a dose of COVID-19 vaccines to 90.8 percent of the UAE population.

The recent decline in daily infections comes just days before the opening of the Expo 2020 Dubai, which the emirate hopes will draw millions from around the globe.


’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says

’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says
Updated 42 min 30 sec ago

’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says

’Soon’ in Iranian parlance differs from West’s in nuclear talks, Iran’s top diplomat says
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Saturday that when his government says it will return soon to talks on resuming compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, it means when Tehran has completed its review of the nuclear file.
On Friday, Amirabdollahian told reporters in New York that Iran would return to talks “very soon,” but gave no specific date.
In remarks broadcast on state TV channel IRINN on Saturday, Amirabdollahian said, “People keep asking how soon is soon. Does it mean days, weeks or months?”
“The difference between Iranian and Western ‘soon’ is a lot. To us,‘soon’ means really in the first opportune time — when our reviews (of the nuclear file) have been completed. What is important is our determination to return to the talks, but those that are serious and guarantee the Iranian nation’s rights and interests,” Amirabdollahian said.
He was speaking to IRINN in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
On the other hand, he said: “I remind you of the West’s promises, such as repeatedly promising they would ‘soon’, ‘in a few months,’ implement the Instex” — a trade mechanism set up to barter humanitarian goods and food after the US withdrawal from the deal.
Iran has said the channel with Europe has been ineffective.
Under the 2015 deal that Iran signed with world powers, it agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions. Washington abandoned that deal in 2018 and unilaterally reimposed financial sanctions.
Talks that began in April between Iran and the five other nations — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — to revive the deal have been stalled since hard-line cleric Ebrahimi Raisi was elected president in June.
European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran, which has refused to negotiate directly with US officials.

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
Updated 25 September 2021

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push
  • Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population

JERUSALEM: Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering coronavirus boosters to almost anyone over 12 and says its approach was further vindicated by a US decision to give the shots to older patients or those at higher risk.
Israeli officials credit the booster shot, which has already been delivered to about a third of the population, with helping suppress the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. They say the differing approaches are based on the same realization that the booster is the right way to go, and expect the US and other countries to expand their campaigns in the coming months.
“The decision reinforced our results that the third dose is safe,” said Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and chairman of the country’s association of public health physicians. “The main question now is of prioritization.”
The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of the year so that more people in poor countries can get their first two doses, but Israeli officials say the booster shot is just as important in preventing infections.
“We know for sure that the current system of vaccine nationalism is hurting all of us, and it’s creating variants,” said Davidovitch, who is also a member of an Israeli government panel of experts. But he added that the problem is “much broader than Israel.”
Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population after striking a deal with Pfizer to trade medical data in exchange for a steady supply of doses. It has also purchased large quantities of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Most adults had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine by March, causing infection levels to plummet and allowing the government to lift nearly all coronavirus restrictions.
But in June, the highly infectious delta variant began to spread. After studying the matter, experts concluded that the vaccine remained effective against the virus, but that its efficacy waned roughly five months after the second shot.
In late July, Israel began distributing booster shoots to at-risk citizens, including those over 60. Within weeks, it expanded the campaign to the general population.
More than 3 million of Israel’s 9 million citizens have gotten a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.
In a study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Israeli experts said that in people who had been vaccinated five months earlier, the booster increased vaccine efficacy tenfold compared with vaccinated patients who didn’t receive it.
That study tracked about 1 million people 60 and older and found that the booster was “very effective at reducing the rate of both confirmed infection and severe illness,” the Health Ministry said.
A senior Israeli health official, Dr. Sharon Alroy Preiss, was among the experts testifying before the US Food and Drug Administration panel last week in favor of the booster shot. But the regulator decided against boosters for the general population, opting only to authorize it for people aged 65 or older and those in high-risk groups.
Experts cited a lack of safety data on extra doses and also raised doubts about the value of mass boosters, rather than ones targeted to specific groups. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar endorsement Thursday.
The Israeli Health Ministry said the FDA decision “gave validity to the third vaccine operation” underway in Israel, which “decided to act responsibly and quickly in order to treat growing infections.” It said statistics show the booster dose has “restored protection.”
Recent weeks have seen “a declining rate of new infections among the elderly,” the vast majority of whom have received booster shots, and “a continuous increase in the proportion of unvaccinated individuals within the new severe cases,” Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government’s expert advisory panel on COVID-19, told The Associated Press.
In recent weeks, as the booster campaign has been rolled out, the percentage of unvaccinated among serious COVID-19 cases has climbed, and the overall new cases among people with at least two shots has dropped.
As of Friday, around 70 percent of Israel’s 703 serious cases of COVID-19 were among the unvaccinated, and about 20 percent had not received a booster. A month earlier, after Israel vaccinated 1.5 million people with a third dose, those two groups were equally represented among the serious cases.
Over 60 percent of Israelis — the overwhelming majority of the adult population — have received at least two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Some experts noted that the US and Europe were several months behind Israel’s vaccination campaign and predicted those countries would follow suit in the months ahead.
“We are experiencing first a phenomenon that will become apparent likely in many other countries in the coming months and create a similar challenge there,” Balicer said. “Few, if any at all, other countries are walking in our shoes right now.”
The UK already is rolling out a booster campaign, with third doses to be offered to anyone over 50 and other vulnerable groups.
The WHO has called on rich countries to refrain from exhausting vaccine stockpiles on boosters while much of the world has yet to receive any. A third shot may be necessary for people with certain health conditions, but “boosters for the general public are not appropriate at this stage of the pandemic,” it said.
“The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will circulate and change, the longer social and economic disruptions will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective,” it said in a statement Friday.
Balicer said that Israel, as a small country, has little effect on global supplies and that its role as the world’s laboratory provides “a very important source of knowledge” for other countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has exhorted the public to get vaccine boosters as part of his aggressive public relations campaign since taking office in June.
“Israel is the only country in the world that is giving its citizens this gift of the possibility — both legally and in terms of supply — of a booster,” he said last week.
Balicer said other states should ready national plans for the rollout of booster shots.
“Countries that vaccinated more recently should be prepared for the impact of waning vaccine immunity manifesting in midwinter, further intensifying the challenge,” he said.