Armed conflicts have become the leading cause of world hunger, with the effects of HIV/AIDS and global warming close behind, according to a new report out today by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"Conflict destroys lives, opportunities and environments and may be one of the most significant obstacles to sustainable development as it can destroy in hours and days what has taken years and decades to develop," says the report, presented to an FAO committee meeting this week in Rome to review policies towards reducing world hunger, including food production and physical and economic access to food.
The proportion of food emergencies that can be considered human-made has increased over time, the report says, warning that the goal of halving the world's hungry by 2015 is almost certain to be missed by a wide margin if current trends continue.
More than a third of food emergencies between 1992 and 2003 were due to conflict and economic problems, compared with around 15 per cent from 1986 to 1991, the report says, adding that war also contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS through displacement, rape or commercial sex.
"The impact…is not limited to the conflict area. It diverts resources from national development programmes and weakens government capacity, indirectly affecting the provision of services to the whole population," it says.
The report also draws attention to the threat to food security posed by global warming and climate change, which cause flooding and desertification. "In the long run, all countries are likely to be affected by climate changes as a result of the global warming phenomenon," it states.
Natural disasters and human-induced factors can reinforce each other, leading to complex emergencies and protracted crises, the report cautions. It calls for special attention in coping with "key shocks" to food security arising from conflicts, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS.
The report calls peace a public good and an essential condition for attaining the MDGs, and says all nations must recognize peace as a core objective. "Peace encourages investments and allows social and economic development," it says.