Hunger is not inevitable As 2016 comes to an end, almost 130-million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Throughout the year, natural hazards, conflict and protracted crises have placed a particularly heavy burden on the poor, who are often extremely vulnerable to shocks. Across 22-affected areas, 70-million people are currently in Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Phase 3 or above.
In June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that the number of people displaced by violence and hunger was the highest since records began. These figures continued to rise throughout the year. By the end of 2016, more than 1-million South Sudanese had fled to neighbouring countries – the largest refugee movement in Africa. Almost 5-million Syrians are refugees, the overwhelming majority of whom are being hosted in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. These massive population movements have a dramatic effect on agricultural production and food security, both in areas of origin and among host communities. Across the world, millions more have remained at home, struggling to cope with renewed conflict, food shortages and often far from any regular source of assistance. They increasingly rely on shrinking livelihood opportunities – the vast majority of which are agriculture-based.
Natural disasters from floods to storms, earthquakes to droughts devastated communities around the globe in 2016.
In February, Cyclone Winston, one of the worst storms recorded in the southern hemisphere, swept across Fiji, destroying 100-percent of crops. Hurricane Matthew raged across the Caribbean in October, destroying lives and livelihoods. In Haiti alone, 2.1-million people were affected, and 90-percent of expected harvests were lost. The impacts of El Niño were felt worldwide and reflected in soaring food insecurity levels – over 60-million were affected. The majority were in Southern Africa, including Madagascar, where the peak impacts of El Niño are yet to be felt.
None of this is inevitable. While we cannot prevent storms, hurricanes or drought, we can reduce their impact. Some conflict and migration drivers specifically relate to FAO’s mandate and competencies. Supporting agricultural development, investing in food security and viable, resilient livelihoods, particularly for young people, can help address the underlying causes of conflict and migration. Preventing disease outbreaks in animals has huge benefits for human populations – protecting global human health and saving the vital assets of communities with few alternatives.
In 2016, FAO reached millions of crisis-affected people, helping them to produce and purchase food, maintain their livelihoods, stay on or return to their land where it was safe to do so, and enabling them to provide for themselves even when they have been forced to flee.
Yet, the gap between the number who need assistance and those we are able to reach with funding received is widening.
The agriculture sector is consistently underfunded in humanitarian appeals – just 23-percent of the funds requested by the sector in 2016 were received. However, even small investments in agriculture can have massive and long-term impact. In response to El Niño-induced drought in Ethiopia, humanitarian partners distributed thousands of tonnes of seed in 2016, saving an estimated USD-1-billion in food assistance needs. The total cost of the seed intervention was just a fraction of this – USD-35-million.
FAO’s comparative advantage lies in the Organization’s technical expertise and role in supporting longer-term development. When a disaster hits, FAO remains, bringing its know-how to support vulnerable, crisis-affected communities to quickly resume food production and strengthen the resilience of their livelihoods.
Forecasts for 2017 are alarming. Millions of people – many of them children – face the very real threat of starvation in Madagascar, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.
Drought is once again threatening herders across the Horn of Africa, further undermining livelihoods that have yet to recover from the last drought. In Iraq and Syria, violence continues unabated, forcing people to abandon their homes and agriculture-based livelihoods. This not only destroys any development gains made, it pushes people into food insecurity in the short term, making it harder to return and resume their livelihoods when stability is restored.
Behind these forecasts are real people – men, women, boys and girls, their families and their communities. Critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is the commitment to leave no one behind. At FAO, we take these commitments seriously. Building resilient agricultural livelihoods is at the heart of our work. Improving early warning and linking it to early action can prevent a shock like a natural hazard from becoming a crisis. By investing in agriculture when a crisis does hit, we can make an immediate and lasting difference in the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people and help them to protect against future disasters.
In 2017, FAO is seeking over USD‑1‑billion to reach more than 40‑million people.
Daniel Gustafson Deputy Director – General (Programmes)