Food insecurity. A lack of access and entitlement to available food resources
Yemen and South Sudan case study
Wissenschaftlicher Aufsatz 2017 9 Seiten
In order to fully understand the concept of food insecurity one should start from reflecting on the opposite of it. The most comprehensive definition of food security is provided by the World Health Organization. According to it “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (World Food Summit, 1996). The above definition encompasses the concept of food entitlement introduced by Amartya Sen. This concept argues that hunger and sufficient food supply may coexist independently (Sen, 1981 cited in Young, 2012). Sen argues that it is not about the food availability around, but about the ability of an individual or a household, i.e. a group of individuals residing in the same dwelling, to acquire a sufficient diet. This can be done in various ways.
In the context of the Global South, how much food an individual or a household can access depends on their ability to produce food for own consumption (physical access) or to earn income (economic access). While the physical access depends mainly on assets such as land, water, labour, equipment, know-how, and capital, the economic access is conditioned upon purchasing power and income generating activities. A combination of activities undertaken to secure the food access is called a livelihood strategy (Scoones, 1998). The context in which people live is crucial for shaping the latter. This context, however, is not stable but highly dynamic due to more or less predictable trends, seasonality and unexpected shocks that can undermine the livelihood sustainability when it comes to coping with and recovering from stresses and shocks as well as maintaining its capabilities and assets. All these factors may lead to food insecurity.
According to the data published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) the number of chronically undernourished people in the world increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016 due to the fact that food security situation has deteriorated in some parts of Sub- Saharan Africa, South- Eastern Asia and Western Asia (2017). Conflict is considered to be the key driver of situations of severe food crisis and recently re-emerged famine crisis. Civil conflict has been the driving factor in 10 of 13 worst recent crises listed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), along with climate shocks and increasing food prices contributing as well (2017). Conflicts increase food insecurity and limit the livelihood options, yet food insecurity caused by abnormal weather patterns and rising food prices may also lead to a conflict (FAO and IPRI, 2017). Record food prices in 2008 and 2009 led to protests and riots in 48 countries (Brinkman and Hendrix, 2011, cited in Ecker, 2014). What is more, it is poverty that is considered to be the fundamental driver of conflicts. A research conducted by Paul Collier shows that a low-income country faces a risk of a civil war of 14 per cent every five years (2008). While famine was officially declared in some areas of South Sudan in early 2017, it is Yemen that is recently facing unprecedented levels of hunger. Both these countries are affected by prolonged conflict.
Yemen is a low-income country where deteriorating economic situation leading to societal impoverishment, and combined with government’s inability to effectively address the social and economic challenges sparked civil unrest in the Spring of 2011 (Ecker, 2014). The data published in the 2011 Comprehensive Food Security Survey (CFSS) of the World Food Programme (WFP) indicated that 90.2 per cent of all Yemeni households were affected by the food prices increase. Consequently, 56.1 per cent of households experienced lack of food or monetary means to purchase it and 25.4 per cent engaged in reversible coping strategies of skipping meals (WFP, 2012, cited in Ecker, 2014). What is more, the proportion of food-insecure households (measured based on WFP’s food consumption score) increased by one-third from late 2009 to 44.5 per cent in late 2011 (WFP, 2012, cited in Ecker, 2014) while proportion of child wasting increased by over 20 per cent within only one year to reach 15.9 per cent in late 2012 (IPC-IG et al.,2013, cited in Ecker, 2014).
In the years that followed the civil unrest evolved into a severe, complex and persistent war that has led to the collapse of coping strategies of the society, prompted migration and destitution. As of March 2017, 17 million people, i.e. about 60 per cent of the population, were estimated to be food insecure and further 7 million severely insecure (World Bank, 2017). According to Food Security Information Network report (FSIN) the number of people facing food insecurity has increased by 1.2 million compared to 2015, and by 3.5 million compared to 2014 (2017). The number of internally displaced people was estimated for 3.1 million and these individuals were the ones facing the highest levels of food-insecurity due to losing their livelihood base (FSIN, 2017). What is more, 3.3 million children and pregnant or nursing women were acutely malnourished, including 452,000 children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). This represented a 57 per cent increase since late 2015 and posed a direct threat to their lives and life-long prospects (WFP, 2017). In March 2017, the average prices of locally produced basic commodities, such as maize or millet, were 44 per cent higher compared to February 2015 (FAO, 2017).
Basic social services are about to collapse as authorities have no money and are incapable of paying salaries, operate health facilities, schools, water supply and sanitation systems and social welfare progammes (Unicef, 2017). The Social Welfare Fund, a cash transfer programme for 8 million of the poorest Yemeni, has not been operational since late 2014 (The World Factbook, 2017; Unicef 2017). Furthermore, the persisting conflict has caused a shortage of agricultural inputs as well as fishing activities that constitute a key livelihood sector (FAO, 2017). Damaged infrastructure, restrictions on imports and financial transactions have severely impacted the private sector (Unicef, 2017). It is estimated that 80 per cent of all Yemeni families facing depletion of savings caused by loss of jobs, businesses or safety nets are in debt or are borrowing money to survive (Unicef, 2017). Consequently, physical and economic access to food is practically nonexistent and coping mechanisms of the society have been exhausted. What is more, the nutrition situation has been aggravated by the cholera outbreak taking the biggest toll on children and elderly people (Ghebreyesus et al., 2017). The ongoing lack of consensus towards peace along with prohibiting the cargo from entering the country by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is deepening the vicious circle of poverty the Yemeni nation is trapped in. According to Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN OCHA, Yemen is about to face the largest food insecurity crisis the world has not seen for decades (UN News Service, 2017).
Similarly, a protracted conflict that continues since December 2013 is the main cause of food insecurity escalation in South Sudan. Despite the fighting parties’ efforts to make peace by signing an accord in August 2015, the conflict persists making the vulnerable population worse off. South Sudan is overwhelmingly rural and subsistent agriculture as livelihood strategy prevails there (World Bank, 2017). It is estimated that nine in ten households depend on crop farming, livestock, fishing or forestry (WFP, 2017). All this combined with the neglected infrastructure, the lack of clarity of property rights and the scarcity of markets (The Fact Book, 2017), contributes to the practically permanent existence of food insecurity among South Sudanese. By destroying their rural livelihoods, decimating assets, disrupting agricultural production the current conflict has compounded it. Violence has limited already scarce market access and disrupted trade flows. The entitlement failure along with insecurity has led to 1.9 million internally displaced people and over 1.26 million refugees (FAO, 2017).
The situation has been aggravated by the economic crisis. Underproduction, hyperinflation, devaluation of local currency, import restrictions and increased transport costs have led to massive price increases of main agricultural commodities in 2016 and in 2017 (FAO and WFP, 2017; Unicef, 2017). Lower crop production due to conflict and climate shocks has caused crop yield shortages. A deficit of about 500,000 tons has been forecasted for 2017, 30 per cent higher versus 380,000 tons in 2016 (FAO and WFP, 2017). The cereal prices have increased by over 100 per cent in July 2016 versus June 2016, and were almost ten times higher than in 2015 (FSIN, 2017). Sorghum and maize prices peaked in December 2016 while cassava and groundnut prices increased in February 2017 (FAO and WFP, 2017). In addition to that, the government employees have not received their salaries for several months, which has impeded their economic access as well as the options for remittances and sharing (FAO and WFP, 2017).