Peace to end conflict-related hunger

Peace to end conflict-related hunger – Ottawa Notebook

by Nyambura Githaiga

Four times! She seemed about 60 years old and this was her fourth time as a Southern Sudanese refugee in Northern Uganda. I could not wrap my mind around that.

Part of me wanted to sit with her and ask for the specifics. How old are you? Where exactly are you from? When were you first a refugee and for how long? What are the other dates for when you were a refugee? Do you have a family? Where are they? And on and on, I may have asked, for as long as she was willing to answer. But what right did I have to ask for more answers when my mind could not even get past the four times? Violent conflict has disrupted her life and taken away her choice of where to live. Peace to live.

Later that day, I spoke with an older man who asked me to pray for peace in South Sudan. He said that even though he had lived most of his life either as a refugee or as an internally displaced person, all he wanted now was peace in South Sudan so that he could go back, die and be buried there. Peace, to die in peace.

Photo Credit: Edward Echwalu

Peace to live, peace to die. The UNCHR website states that 37,000 people a day are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. Prolonged violent conflicts have intensified humanitarian crises. Over 820 million people around the world do not have enough to eat[1]. In 2018, conflict and insecurity were the primary drivers of food insecurity for 74 million people in 18 countries[2].

Starting in 2017, discussions on the link between conflict and hunger gained traction at international policy tables. On 24 May 2018, the UN Security Council passed resolution 2417 that recognizes the link between conflict and hunger, condemns the use of starvation as a weapon of war and calls for safe and unhindered access by humanitarian personnel to civilians in armed conflicts. This resolution was passed in a context of ongoing violent conflicts where hunger has been used to control or punish vulnerable populations, and humanitarian access has been denied. Ending hunger in conflict will save lives.

Ending conflict will end conflict-related hunger. In 2018, the World Food Program Executive Director, David Beasley, said, “To end hunger, we need to end conflicts”. This statement invites peacebuilding into a new space. Attaining food security cannot be limited to agriculture, livelihoods and nutrition programs.  Conflict is a major driver of food insecurity. When violent conflict breaks out, people are displaced often losing their wealth and leaving behind their livestock, unharvested farms, and granaries stocked with food. The longer the conflict lasts, the more devastating the effects on the food system, with consequences for long-term food security in that region. Ending conflict is crucial to ending hunger caused by conflict. Peace to end conflict-related hunger.

Conflict is not the only cause of hunger. Poverty, weather variability, economic downturns and failures in the global food system are all causes of hunger.  The four aspects of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability. Food security is possible when there is enough nutritious food of sufficient quality available to all. But food is not free. You are food secure if you can afford to buy this nutritious food of sufficient quality – money is a ticket to access food. The 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition report noted that even in high income countries, some people did not have regular access to nutritious food. Access is an issue when nutritious foods cost more than foods low in nutrition.

Photo Credit: Edward Echwalu

The third element of food security is when we are able to eat, and our bodies can use the food to nourish us. Utilisation is affected by poor health, physical or psychological. I once interviewed a survivor of political violence who told me that during violence, they had food, but they were unable to eat as they listened to the frightening sounds of violence outside their home. Finally, the availability, access and utilisation of food needs to be stable. For example, the first 1000 days between pregnancy and a baby’s second birthday have far reaching health and developmental consequences for a child. During my visit to refugees in Northern Uganda I had a chance to meet with recipients of a nutritional supplementary feeding; what a joy to see the healthy-looking babies!

Ending hunger is as complex as ending conflict. In conflict transformation, we consider the different layers of conflict, from the actual incident of violent conflict, to the structures and systems that enabled that conflict. A fight between two communities might be rooted in a context of political or economic inequalities and injustice. Building peace is complex because each layer of the violent conflict needs to be addressed for sustainable peace. Ending hunger is also complex. The root causes are not only varied, but they are complex. Violent conflict. Poverty. Weather changes, climate variability, climate change. Inadequate or unjust food systems. Overwhelming complexity.

One of my favourite Kiswahili proverbs in the face of complexity is: ‘Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba’ – little by little fills the measure. Ending hunger and ending conflict will be accomplished one layer at a time. A few decades ago, food security was largely a matter of ensuring adequate food production, making it available, accessible and usable over time. These measures are still vital and relevant to food security today. But now we must also tackle the other layers of food insecurity. Ending conflict is one of those layers. We asked the refugees in Uganda what message we should give to Canadians. As they sent their gratitude, they asked us all to pray for peace in South Sudan. Let us all pray, learn, give and advocate to end hunger and to end conflict.

Nyambura Githaiga is a Senior Policy Advisor with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.


[1] The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report

[2] The Global Report on Food Crises 2018

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