An increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.
Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict.
The dominant driver of today’s humanitarian crises is armed conflict. Ten of the World Food Program’s thirteen “largest and most complex emergencies are driven by conflict”, and “responding to war and instability represents 80 percent of all humanitarian spending today … stretching humanitarian organizations beyond their limits.” Ongoing conflict not only drives humanitarian crises, but complicates the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need and to provide assistance.
Violence, conflict, and persecution have resulted in the displacement of 65,000,000 people, more than any other time since World War II. The average length of displacement is seventeen years. In such circumstances, measures of food insecurity are nearly triple that found in other developing country settings.
The current humanitarian situation confronts these stark realities:
- For the first time in a decade, the number of hungry people in the world is on the rise. In 2016, 815 million people were undernourished, an increase of 38 million people from 2015. Almost 500 million of the world’s hungry live in countries affected by conflict.
- The number of people who are acutely food-insecure (in need of emergency assistance) rose from 80 million in 2016 to 108 million in 2017—a 35 percent increase in a single year.
- Over 65 million people are currently displaced because of violence, conflict and persecution—more than any other time since World War II.
- For the first time in history, the world faces the prospect of four simultaneous famines in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Each of these crises is driven by conflict.
- Increased migration and the spilling of conflicts beyond borders has led to a proliferation of “fragile states”—states defined by “the absence or breakdown of a social contract between people and their government.”
- By 2030, between half and two-thirds of the world’s poor are expected to live in states classified as fragile. While a decade ago most fragile states were low-income countries, today almost half are middle-income countries.
At the same time, the nature of conflict and the global system of governance are undergoing transitions that undermine the international community’s ability to address and reduce conflict. The report highlights the rise of non-state actors as powerful participants in armed conflict while also recognizing the significance of activities such as the weaponizing of information to undermine the legitimacy of traditional nation-state institutions.
The report also describes how threats such as food insecurity can drive recruitment for terrorists and rebels, worsening destabilization. (Report, p.7) Military strength cannot adequately address these kinds of threats. Rather, appropriate responses to such threats must address their actual nature. Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades will never be a long-term solution to food insecurity-driven instability. Recognition of this basic reality drives the use of so-called “smart power” in the form of foreign assistance, especially food assistance and agricultural development, to address the underlying causes of this instability. Continue reading