Around 52 million in Near East, North Africa, suffering chronic undernourishment, new UN food agency report reveals

Hunger continues to rise as conflicts and protracted crises have worsened in the Near East and North Africa region (NENA), which is likely to affect food security for years to come, warned the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Wednesday.

“Conflicts and civil instability have long-lasting impacts on the food and nutrition security of both affected and surrounding countries in the regions”, Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, Assistant Director-General and NENA Representative of the (FAO) said, noting that more than two-thirds of hungry people there live in conflict-affected countries, threatening efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the key goal of Zero Hunger.

FAO’s Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa underscores that since 2011, 52 million people across the region now suffer from chronic undernourishment – with stunting, wasting and undernutrition amplified by fighting.  “The impact of conflict has been disrupting food and livestock production in some countries and consequently affecting the availability of food across the region”, Mr. Ould Ahmed said.

“Rising hunger is also compounded by rapid population growth, scarce and fragile natural resources, the growing threat of climate change, increasing unemployment rates, and diminished rural infrastructure and services”, he added.

The report also highlights that as the region hosts the highest obesity rates, it puts pressure on people’s health, national health systems and economies.  Addressing this means raising public awareness and ensuring access to healthy nutritious food.

Millions of children across Yemen face serious threats due to malnutrition, 

Abolishing rural-urban differences

The report shows that not only do conflicts undermine the region’s Zero Hunger efforts, but also rural development.

“Countries that are not in conflict and have gone furthest in transforming rural areas in a sustainable way including through better management of water resources, have achieved better food security and nutrition outcomes than those in conflict or with lower levels of rural transformation”, Mr. Ould Ahmed observed, noting that more efforts are needed to boost rural employment, stimulate economic growth, reduce urban-rural gaps and improve agricultural productivity and rural infrastructure and services.

The report also highlights that unemployment in NENA, particularly for young people and women, is a significant regional challenge and that while rural areas accommodate some 40 per cent of the population, the average agriculture wage is generally far lower than those outside the sector. This factors into why rural poverty is about twice as high as that in urban areas.

Looking towards solutions, improved market access for farmers, investments in agriculture, technology transference and key policy changes that shift from subsistence farming to commercial and diversified production systems, can all help improve food production. Highlighting the region’s potential to produce products that require less water and more labour, Mr. Ould Ahmed concluded: “There is a great need to encourage our region’s farmers to produce according to the comparative advantage of the region”.

The NENA regions consist of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

Hundreds of wounded Gaza protesters risk limb amputation without immediate help, warns top UN official

Millions of dollars in emergency funding is needed in Gaza to save the shattered limbs of some 1,700 people who have been seriously injured in demonstrations against Israel along the border fence, a top UN humanitarian official said on Wednesday.

In an appeal for $20 million to help victims hurt during protests dubbed the Great March of Return – weekly rallies on Fridays by Gazans that began a year ago, leaving 29,000 people injured, many by live ammunition – Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), said that more resources were urgently required.

“The health structures really are in bad shape and that’s why we have put this appeal out for $20 million to address the needs of those 1,700 people, but also to support the health system”, he said.

“Of that 29,000, 7,000 have been shot with live ammunition and those are the ones who have been treated at facilities that are under very serious stress anyway”, Mr. McGoldrick added.

To date, some 120 amputations have taken place since the beginning of the demonstrations, according to the UN official, with 20 children among the amputees.

‘Running against the clock’

“We are running against the clock for some of these cases and osteomyelitis – bone infection – will be a crisis, and the need is to treat that, prevent that, otherwise we will have amputations,” he said. “The technical abilities of doctors on the ground to carry out treatment required for the 1,700 (injured demonstrators) just doesn’t exist.”

Speaking in Geneva following a lull in deadly violence over the weekend at the Israel-Gaza border between militant groups in Gaza – which is controlled by Hamas – and Israeli security forces, Mr. McGoldrick insisted on the need for dialogue to address the dire economic and humanitarian situation there.

He confirmed that UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, was in Cairo to reinforce the fragile Gaza ceasefire deal reportedly mediated by Egypt, adding that he hoped this would allow humanitarian deliveries to resume “because we were prevented from doing work, because of the insecurity and instability”.

Today, average household debt in Gaza is $4,000, the UN official explained, noting that average salaries are $400 a month. The situation has been made worse by chronically high youth unemployment and the fact that the UN’s $350 million humanitarian appeal for 2019 is funded at only 14 per cent.

“It’s not going to get any better, it’s getting worse,” he said. “If you look at the number of shops that have closed because of debt…people are using all sorts of means, selling assets, doctors going abroad leaving the family and sending remittances back, we’re hearing that the indebted nature of some of the poorest families is quite heavy.”

During the recent military activity, hundreds of rockets were launched from Gaza by Palestinian militants into southern Israel, and hundreds of airstrikes and tank rounds were fired in return, causing 29 fatalities in Gaza and four in Israel, along with some 200 casualties on each side.

“The situation is very precarious,” Mr. McGoldrick said. “And I think the need for a political solution is all the more highlighted because of how easy it is to slip into something very quickly.”

UN launches innovative programme to detect and disrupt terrorist travel

A new programme aimed at improving the tracking of suspected terrorists, using state-of-the-art software, was launched by the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) on Tuesday.

The launch at UN Headquarters in New York, of the United Nations Countering Terrorist Travel Programme, comes in the wake of the territorial defeat of the Iraq and Syria-based ISIL terrorist group. Thousands of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) are attempting to return home or relocate to safe havens or conflict zones, representing a major threat to international peace and security.

The Programme, described by UNOCT as a “flagship initiative,” is designed to help countries to enhance the detection of FTFs and serious criminals, through the collection, identification, and analysis of their passenger data.

A mix of technology and legislation

Several UN counter-terrorism departments, as well as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), will work closely together to implement the initiative, which provides countries with free access to advanced “goTravel” software, which analyses travel data to help countries detect and disrupt terrorists’ movements.

Another aspect of the Programme involves the UN supporting national authorities in the development of legislation and national expertise, via training and certification to operate the software lawfully and effectively.

The “goTravel” software is a reconfigured version of a system donated by the Netherlands to the United Nations.

Recent attacks ‘tragic reminders of global reach of the scourge of terrorism’

Speaking at the launch of the Programme, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said that recent attacks, notably those in Kenya, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, are “tragic reminders of the global reach of the scourge of terrorism.”

The UN chief noted the “dramatic movement” of terrorists to and from conflict zones around the world over the past seven years, in particular the estimated 40,000 FTFs from 110 countries who may have travelled to join terror groups in Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Guterres also stated that the Programme will help states to collect, process and share travel data with other competent national and international authorities, with full respect for privacy and other fundamental freedoms.

Balancing surveillance with data and human rights protection

In an interview with UN News, Jelle Postma, chief of the Countering Terrorist Travel and Aviation Security Section in the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, insisted that the technology was built with safeguards in place for data and human rights protection, explaining that after a certain period of time, sensitive data elements, such as sexual orientation, or trade union membership, will be automatically deleted by the system.

Mr Postma said that the UN will work with national parliaments to ensure that new surveillance laws include independent and transparent oversight mechanisms.

The programme is currently funded by India, Japan, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Better training ‘a necessary and strategic investment’ in peacekeeping that saves lives: Guterres

Better training for peacekeepers being deployed to increasingly hostile environments is a “necessary and strategic” investment which can also save lives, the UN Secretary-General told Security Council members on Tuesday.

UNMISSPolice officers at the UN Mission in South Sudan carry out a riot-control training exercise. (file 2015)

Addressing an open debate on training and capacity building for UN peacekeeping missions, António Guterres said that “notable progress” had been made in training ‘blue helmets’ and others who serve in some of the most dangerous places on earth, but “much still needs to be done”.

In a statement, the Security Council also underscored the importance of peacekeeping overall, “as one of the most effective tools available…in the promotion and maintenance of international peace and security.”

Mr. Guterres said that beyond preparation, training improves performance. “And as we know, improved performance, reduces fatalities. As such training is a necessary and strategic investment in peacekeeping – and is a shared responsibility between Member States and the Secretariat”.

In the UN’s five most “high-risk” missions, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Darfur (UNAMID), South Sudan (UNMISS) and Mali (MINUSMA), he said an Action Plan to improve security was ongoing, and a comprehensive Training Plan.

“To help address the threat of improvised explosive devices and other dangers, we are working with Troop and Police-Contributing Countries to ensure that units joining our missions meet our operational readiness standards before deployment, and that they have undergone pre-deployment training in accordance with UN standards”, he said. “We are also placing a renewed emphasis on in-mission training to ensure that our peacekeepers benefit from the necessary support in the field.”

‘Talent pipeline’ for senior women officers

Mr. Guterres said more mobile teams were needed from Member States, and to encourage more women leaders, a “talent pipeline specifically for senior women military officers is under development”. He said continued support through government funding was “essential”, noting the “encouraging” downward trend in allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping missions.

“But we are also minded that we must be vigilant in our prevention efforts and seek accountability whenever the zero-tolerance policy has been violated”.

In conclusion, the UN chief noted “training gaps remain in critical areas such as weapons handling, first aid, human rights and protection issues.” He urged Member States to consider “increased funding, in-kind contributions of equipment” and proving more trainers.

In its statement, the Security Council welcomed the efforts undertaken overall by the Secretary-General “to mobilize all partners and stakeholders in support of more effective United Nations peacekeeping through his initiative Action for Peacekeeping (A4P), and recognizes the added value that the Declaration of Shared Commitments on Peacekeeping Operations has in relation to training and capacity building.”