Tackling hunger requires addressing the challenge in fragile states

Food distribution in Sudan. Photo by: Anouk Delafortrie / ECHO / CC BY-ND

Political instability and climate change continue to threaten global efforts to end hunger and poverty. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s poor will be living in fragile states, according to the Bread for the World Institute’s “2017 Hunger Report: Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities,” which was released Monday.

During the public launch of the report in Washington, D.C., a panel addressed some of the key issues raised in the report and highlighted how the U.S. government and global communities can work together to end global hunger and poverty. Here are five key takeaways:

1. Fragile states should not be left behind in the fight against hunger.

The world has made progress in reducing hunger — today about one in nine people in the world have experienced hunger, down from one in four in the 1990s — but fragile states are still at risk of being left behind, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides policy analysis and strategies on how to end world hunger, said at the event.

About 20 percent of the world’s chronically hungry people live in countries that are affected by conflicts, according the report. There is an opportunity for the U.S. and the global community to strengthen their efforts to create inclusive development programs to end world hunger and poverty.

Congress has shown a willingness to act on the challenge of world hunger, with the passage of the Global Food Security Act of 2016 passed earlier this year, recognizing that high cost of food can plunge many communities into poverty, making them vulnerable to conflicts and other forms of instability. The legislation could serve as a guide for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, but inaction by the new administration could slow down the progress already set by his predecessor, Beckmann said.

2. Humanitarian corridors need protection from attacks.

Nongovernmental organizations who work to provide relief to those living in poverty in fragile states are facing more difficulties in reaching them due to a number of challenges, including recent attacks on humanitarian workers. Given that 60 percent of the world’s poor live in fragile states, solving the challenge of protecting the places they live and those working to serve them is paramount.

“We are concerned that food is being used as a weapon of war,” said Anwar Khan, chief executive officer of Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian organization that provides relief and development services to poor states in the U.S. and developing countries.

Communities that are most hit by violence are often also denied access to food and medical assistance, he said, as violent extremists now target hospitals or humanitarian workers who provide these services. His organization recently lost two staff members who were working at the Kenya-Somali border.

“We need humanitarian laws to be upheld,” Khan said. Such laws, he said, would ensure that adequate security is provided for humanitarian workers and communities recovering from violence, and also provide overall protection for humanitarian corridors where relief efforts are centered.

Source: 2017 Hunger Report: Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities

3. Inclusive participatory growth will be an asset.

Tackling the challenges of hunger and poverty will require inclusive growth that helps to provide opportunities for the disenfranchised. People living in fragile states are typically marginalized, restricted from political participation and have few opportunities for economic empowerment. The result, often, is increased conflict and violence in an attempt to revolt against the “unfair” system that marginalized them, further exacerbating problems of poverty and hunger.

“Prevention requires early intervention,” said Joseph Hewitt, vice president for policy, learning and strategy at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Before the vulnerable population resorts to taking up arms and carrying out violent attacks, measures should be put in place to engage them.

What’s needed is more inclusive and participatory growth in fragile states, said Alexia Latortue, principal deputy assistant secretary for international development policy at the U.S Department of Treasury. By that, she means a strengthened collaboration and partnership between multilateral organizations, government agencies, NGOs and other organizations working in global development, including the private sector.

“How can we do more with the [limited] resources available,” she said. One way to do that is to include monitoring, learning and evaluation throughout program implementation, rather than leaving it to the end, so that humanitarian organizations can learn and evaluate as they go, Latortue added.

4. Provide empowerment programs for refugees and not just handouts.

While people living in fragile communities may not have the same outlook as they did before, most still want to support themselves and they need the educational opportunities and trainings that would enable them become self-reliant.

Humanitarian organizations and government leaders would benefit more by doing things differently when it comes to supporting refugees, said Prince Tarnah, who spent 11 years as a refugee from Liberian civil war.

“In addition to aid that a relief agency presents, there is a need to tap into that ability of refugees to fend for themselves,” he said.

People who are not provided with opportunities for inclusive growth and development would remain a burden to any society, Tarnah said.

5. Gender matters when implementing programs.

People experience conflict differently. This makes it even more imperative for organizations working in fragile communities to be sensitive about gender roles when addressing the drivers of conflict and implementing programs. 

“We have to be careful of how our program is sensitive to the specific [gender],” Hewitt said. Conflicts and crises often change the roles men and women play in communities and in families, which need to be addressed in order to provide effective support. For example, women who are separated from their husbands may find themselves serving as breadwinners and taking up trainings that will equip them to meet the needs of their families. While it is important to provide opportunities for these women, it is important to ensure that the opportunities do not disenfranchise the men in those communities.

Since women and girls tend to bear the brunt of conflicts, policies and interventions must be designed accordingly, Khan said. He gave the example of a refugee community he worked where many girls were raped by rebels as they collected firewood to cook with. When asked why they would endanger, parents said they had to make the hard choice of sending sons who might be killed, or daughters who would be raped. To tackle that problem, Islamic Relief provided cooking stoves in the community, eliminating the need for firewood.

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About the author

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    Jennifer Ehidiamen

    Jennifer Ehidiamen is a Nigerian writer who is passionate about communications and journalism. She has worked as a reporter and communications consultant for different organizations in Nigeria and overseas. She has an undergraduate degree in mass communication from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, and M.A. in business and economics from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York. In 2014, she founded Rural Reporters (www.ruralreporters.com) with the goal of amplifying underreported news and issues affecting rural communities.