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Conflicts have serious effects on food security

By Lynet Otieno | May 21st 2022 | 3 min read
By Lynet Otieno | May 21st 2022
Eshilunyire Primary School pupils in Butere sub-county during 4K-club sack mount farming in promoting food security. [Jackline Inyanji, Standard]

For the nearly one hour taken to write this article, 75 humans may have lost their lives to severe hunger somewhere in East Africa, particularly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

This is as per latest estimates by Oxfam and Save The Children in a report dubbed “Dangerous Delay 2: The Cost of Inaction”, which says at least one person dies of hunger in the region every 48 seconds courtesy of “conflict, Covid-19, climate crisis and inflationary and market pressures accelerated by the current conflict in Ukraine”.

These are not just numbers, but precious human lives, some depended upon by several others. Such deaths do not only therefore mean loss of the particular lives but also devastating disruption of economic, mental and even social aspects of a people’s lives, a clear vicious circle, considering the causes of the deaths already reported. But it also saying a little more; that whatever response the affected regions are getting internally and from outside is too little, and arriving when the damage is done.

That conflict is undermining food security, hence nutrition, is undeniable, as in Ethiopia’s Tigray, where many aspects of life have been disrupted and people cannot produce food, especially through rain-fed agriculture. The freedom to choose and afford food is limited in conflict situations the moment people's work and movement is curtailed, causing them to be reliant on aid, whose sustainability is dependent on other nations’ commitment. For many a farmer it is more than double loss, including that of livelihoods through sale of surplus produce.

The war in Ukraine is causing scarcity of certain goods in Eastern Africa, pushing up the cost of living and reducing affordability of balanced diet. Even without conflict, the region was already suffering effects of climate change, with Kenya alone witnessing human deaths and loss of livestock in Marsabit and several other areas. In 2021, before the war in Ukraine began, Food and Agriculture Organisation raised the alarm on nutrition and hunger situation globally, blaming it on most of the drivers now mentioned by Oxfam and Save The Children.

But how bad can things get! When humans begin to die at this rate, focus shifts to mere survival. The affected areas are witnessing stunted growth for children, physically and cognitively, due to poor nutrition. Even affording a glass of milk in a week may be a dream. No one thinks of education when they are frail from hunger and causal diseases, while smaller conflict over resources are likely. In certain areas, access to family planning products is not a basic need, leading to unwanted pregnancies. For some, the more the children, the higher the chances of surviving the famine.

This is the sure road to poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment and slower economic growth.

Since “there is no vaccine for hunger”, as the report puts it, this is clearly a desperate call for urgent, deliberate and timely response to the crisis to save communities ravaged by effects of climate change and conflict.

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