08/08/2016, 17.00
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Hunger a "weapon of war" in Syria and Yemen

After Pope Francis spoke out on the issue, the international community releases its data. In Yemen 14 million men and women face an unprecedented food crisis; in Syria, 8.7 million (37 per cent of the population) “need urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance." Syria’s wheat harvest has dropped by half as the country’s agriculture virtually collapses.

Rome (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 50 million people living in 17 conflict-ridden countries are in “severe food insecurity”, two UN agencies warned recently.

In Yemen, 14 million people (over half the population) and, in Syria, 8.7 million people (37 per cent of the population) “need urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance”, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn.

The same goes for parts of north-eastern Nigeria, which has borne the brunt of an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists since 2009, with an estimated half a million people facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

For countries at war, importing food and basic items is logistically difficult if not impossible and at prices out of the reach of most of the population which have lost their livelihoods.

Under such circumstances, it is hard to maintain local agricultural production, even traditional small-scale farms, which are the first to suffer from destruction and labour shortages.

In some parts of Syria, this year people who have been displaced from other regions are helping till the fields and take in the harvest.

The country’s poultry industry has also been destroyed, affecting the poorest section of the population, said Dominique Burgeon, head of the FAO’s emergency unit.

The FAO estimates that only 1.9 million tonnes of wheat will be harvested this year in Syria, less than half of the 4 million tonnes it produced before the war.

The agricultural sector, on which four-fifths of the rural population depends, has virtually collapsed.

Syria has become the first nation to make a withdrawal at the world’s seed bank buried in a mountain on one Norway’s Svalbard islands in the Arctic Ocean to replace destroyed local seeds.

Burgeon warned that despite the best of intentions certain non-governmental organisations risked doing harm by importing seeds not appropriate for the local climate, which would “set the country back years”.

On 13 June, Pope Francis visited the WFP headquarters, stating that " In some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war".

The pontiff complained about the difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to countries in conflict, whilst weapons "circulate with brazen and virtually absolute freedom in many parts of the world.”

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